Before Abraham Lincoln was president, the Salem Normal School was training young women to become teachers for local children. A few name changes and 163 years later, Salem State University’s mission has extended worldwide, sending students abroad while welcoming those from foreign lands to its North Shore campus.
Students, faculty, and administrators increasingly interact with their peers in China, Indonesia, the Middle East, Europe, Central and South America, and the Caribbean.
Professors Sarah Dietrich and Kenneth Reeds gave a group of undergraduates from Boxford, Brockton, Everett, Hanover, Lawrence, Lynn, and Martha’s Vineyard a taste of a global perspective this past semester when they led a nine-day tour of the Dominican Republic. The trip cost each student $1,439, with some getting financial aid.
“It was an eye-opener,” said Dietrich. “It gives them a perspective on themselves, on where they live, and on their future as students and colleagues.”
In 2014, Salem State president Patricia Maguire Meservey applied for the school to participate in the American Council on Education’s Internationalization Laboratory. A 16-member task force was formed to create international majors, expand foreign language courses, and mandate a world cultures course for all students.
Preparation in the classroom “is only part of the equation” in educating students, said David Silva, the university provost. “The strongest participants in the workforce are those who can bring a scholarly, intellectual, and lived experience. Massachusetts has a highly internationalized workforce. It’s inevitable that our graduates will regularly engage with individuals who were raised with different cultural, ethnic, and religious backgrounds.”
When English professor Patricia Gozemba began teaching at Salem State in the mid-1960s, studying abroad was not a priority. With only two dormitories, it was mostly a commuter school. But the atmosphere changed as more dormitories were built and area demographics became more diverse.
“It started with immigrants in the ’80s and ’90s who came from cities around the North Shore,” said Gozemba, now retired. Students with roots in Cambodia, Puerto Rico, and Japan began coming to Salem.
With an enrollment of 29 percent students of color, Salem State is one of the most diverse colleges in the state university system. That’s what attracted Daniel DeChristoforo of Danvers, who will enter his senior year in the fall.
“I like the diversity,” he said while strolling across campus on a recent Sunday morning. After stints at Curry and Endicott colleges, he said, Salem State is his third and final stop.
“You can’t beat the price, and all my professors have
PhDs,” he said. At his previous colleges, “I had professors just out of college.”
While he has never been outside of the country, DeChristoforo has seen the study abroad fliers on campus. Compared with growing up in Danvers, DeChristoforo said he appreciates being around students of varied backgrounds from Lynn, Everett, Salem, and Boston.
“I can hear three other languages around me in the cafeteria,” he said. “I have many friends from all different cultures.”
Nathalie Reyes, who graduated last month, came to the United States from the Dominican Republic when she was 10. Now living in Salem, she worked extra jobs to save money not only to pay for her study abroad, but also to compensate for three months without an income while she was at the Catholic University of Paris in 2015.
“I had so many professors who told me about their experiences, ever since my sophomore year, I knew I had to go abroad,” Reyes said.
It was worth it. Reyes won the French Consulate in Boston Excellence Award and has been offered an English teaching fellowship in the Versailles school district for the 2017-2018 academic year.
Recent graduate Michael Richardsonof Belmont broke new ground by becoming the first student in Salem State’s new exchange program at the University of Mannheim in Germany. He was there for a semester in 2016, and now has friends across Europe and Asia.
“It helped me figure out what I want to do,” said Richardson. “I’ll study curatorial service and do research in museums, such as art history.”
But even without setting foot in another country, students can still get a global perspective. Mathematics professor Kathi Crow taught a course in algebra in Indonesia in 2015. Then she was awarded a Fulbright scholarship to complete a project at the University of Jordan in Amman for the 2016-2017 year. Reached there, she said she loves that her Jordanian students think of math as “sports for the mind,” with drills and training stretching the imagination.
She vows to teach differently when she returns to Salem.
“If students want a job in the world today, chances are it will be with a global company,” she said. “Learning about it now will help them get the job.”
Salem State partners with several Chinese universities where students alternate studying in China and in Salem. The program leads to joint degrees from both universities. Li Li, a history professor, and others accompany Salem State leaders to China every summer to attend graduation ceremonies at one of the partner universities.
Depending on the program, students earn bachelor’s or master’s degrees from both the Chinese university and Salem State.
The world is a big place, and Salem State has big plans. Said Silva: “100 percent of students [will graduate] with a diploma and a passport.”Bette Keva can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.