Faculty Find New Experiences, Perspective Teaching Abroad

Jennifer Helzer (left) and Marjorie Sanchez-Walker will teach abroad this summer.

Teaching in Mexico, CSU Stanislaus Professor Marjorie Sanchez-Walker scaled the Pyramid of the Sun in Teotihuacan and took in the view with her students. "Gazing out with them from that pinnacle and talking about the peoples who built that structure 1,200 years ago," she said, "was something I shall never forget."

A professor of Latin American history, Sanchez-Walker studied abroad as an undergraduate student, did much of her doctoral research in Mexico and has taught there on five different occasions.

This summer, Sanchez-Walker will travel to Costa Rica, where she will teach a course on the participation of women in the country's robust coffee industry. She became interested in the Costa Rican coffee industry during a visit there in April, particularly in the small coffee operations that were being swallowed up by modern construction, "much the way my native Santa Clara Valley became Silicon Valley."

The course will be offered through the University Studies Abroad Consortium (USAC), which coordinates international study opportunities for students from universities worldwide. USAC has 41 program locations in 26 countries and has assisted students from more than 700 universities in its 30-year history.

But it also provides opportunities for faculty.

Jennfer Helzer, professor and director of geography at CSU Stanislaus, focuses her research on the interplay between geography, the environment and world cultures. This summer, she'll teach a course in Viterbo, Italy, analyzing topics like ethnicity, religion, popular culture, migration, agriculture and tourism from a spatial perspective.

Helzer, who has previously studied the migration of Italian natives to California, will use her own research, comparisons between North America and Europe, and field activities and excursions to enhance the learning experience for her students in Italy.

She also plans to remain in Italy after the course is over to conduct research on urban environmental sustainability programs in cities there, which she'll then apply to her existing research on the subject in California.

"European cities are often thought to be the epitome of green design, while American revitalization efforts are seen as needing to learn from the European model," Helzer said. "I'll use case studies of small- and medium-sized cities to learn how their environmental policies, land-use policies and urban design guidelines determine differences or similarities in Europe and North America."

Sanchez-Walker and Helzer are looking forward to their trips for obvious professional and personal reasons, but both are hoping to bring some CSU Stanislaus students with them. Students who wish to study abroad can do so at any USAC site, but many choose to study where a familiar faculty member will be teaching.

And both professors are quick to tout the benefits students receive from studying abroad. Said Sanchez-Walker: "I believe it is the best experience any student can have during his or her university career."

Students or faculty interested in studying or teaching abroad should contact Laura Livermore at llivermore@csustan.edu