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News Story

June 02, 2010

La Roche College NAFSA Award

Paul Simon Award
The roots of internationalization at La Roche University date back to 1993, when then President Monsignor William Kerr, acting on his strong belief in the power of education to transform individual lives and to bring peace to areas of the world experiencing conflict, founded the Pacem In Terris program at La Roche. He created the Pacem In Terris program to address the causes and consequences of instability and conflict by preparing young women and men, through formal baccalaureate education, to take leadership roles in building the more just and inclusive societies needed to foster sustained peace and development in their respective homelands.  The program provides scholarships to students from conflict, post-conflict and developing regions of the world.  Since the program’s inception, La Roche has graduated 451 Pacem scholars from a total of 21 different countries, including Rwanda, Burundi, Equatorial Guinea, Yemen, Kosovo, Ethiopia, Palestine, Namibia, Uganda, Jordan, Haiti, Colombia, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.  There are currently Pacem scholarship recipients from Burundi and Kenya attending La Roche.

The program provides the students with a campus environment that is both physically secure and culturally diverse, allowing them to examine the adverse impact that violence and conflict have had on their countries.  The program operates on three interrelated dimensions: formal classroom instruction, co-curricular and extra-curricular activities related to enhancing the student’s understanding of social and community development, and the experience of living in a democratic environment that accepts and encourages diversity.

Pacem In Terris scholars pursue and obtain a bachelor’s degree that will provide them with the sound conceptual and technical skills they will need to be productive and innovative contributors to the economic development of their homelands.  Throughout the selection process, careful attention is given to ensuring that there is an equitable distribution in the candidate pool in terms of gender, as well as ethnic and religious affiliations.
In selecting students for the program, the University requires that there be consideration given to women and other underserved and disadvantaged populations, and that there be an equitable distribution among women and men, rural as well as urban, ethnic and religious affiliations, in the candidate pool from any one country. 

The University’s Board of Trustees has unanimously endorsed the program, the College has directed more than $7 million in funding to the program over the course of its existence, and La Roche remains fully committed to the program.  The extent of the trustee commitment could be seen when several members of the board joined some College faculty and administrators in holding a commencement ceremony for Pacem graduates in Butare, Rwanda.

The influence which that program has on the young people who participate in it is incalculable, but there is no question that for many of them, it was transformative.  But it has not only been the students who were transformed by the program.  the University itself underwent profound changes which resonate to this day in its mission and purpose.  The Pacem In Terris program has become an integral part of the fabric of La Roche University, benefitting both the direct student participants over the years, as well as the wider campus community.  The Pacem In Terris program has been the catalyst that brought the world to La Roche and in turn, has brought La Roche’s values to the world.

The vision of achieving peace and justice through education is at the core of the Pacem In Terris program and it is a vision that is embraced and reflected in the University’s educational programs. There is ample evidence that this vision has been realized in the lives of countless alumni of La Roche College.  It is seemingly easier to recognize the effect that this vision has had on the young men and women who came to La Roche under the Pacem in Terris program and who carry on this vision for peace and justice in other parts of the world.  But this vision has become so much a part of a La Roche education that all of our alumni leave the University committed to living out that quest for peace and justice in all aspects of their lives, yielding a cadre of La Roche graduates from the North Hills of Pittsburgh to the mountains of Rwanda who are dedicated to creating a more just and peaceful world for all.

With the advent of the Pacem in Terris program, the University experience firsthand the benefits of internationalization, and made the recruitment of students from other countries and regions of the world an acknowledged priority.  Efforts in those areas continue today, with international students now comprising almost 15 percent of the total student body.  With the benefit of the University’s small size, meaningful interaction between our U.S. students and our international students occurs on a more consistent and beneficial basis, contributing to the cultural and global understanding of both groups.

La Roche has expanded its emphasis on global education and cultural understanding beyond its campus and has created programs that have captured the attention and involvement of some of the areas much larger institutions of higher education.  One such program is the annual “Global Problems, Global Solutions” conference.  Initiated by La Roche University in 2004, the conference now has attracted a number of area partners, including the University of Pittsburgh’s Graduate School of Public and International Affairs and the Graduate School of Public Health; Carnegie Mellon University, and Duquesne University’s Center for Catholic Social Thought.  Open, since its inaugural session, to students from all of the area’s colleges and universities, the conference uses the United Nations Millennium Development Goals to focus attention in the Pittsburgh region on serious problems facing our world and to encourage students to become in involved in activities that address these problems.

In addition to being the centerpiece of the “Global Problems, Global Solutions” conference, the UN Millennium Development Goals have also assumed a central role in much of the curriculum planning relating to internationalization.  One outgrowth can be seen in its influence on a series of courses called the La Roche Experience. Originally a freshman course devoted solely to introducing students to aspects of college life, this has now become a series of four one-credit courses. While still providing an introduction and orientation to La Roche University in its first session, the following three focus on Diversity and Discrimination, Regions of Conflict, and Economic Justice. 
The La Roche Experience provides students,  not only with an intellectual understanding of these issues, but also with a variety of  hands-on learning experiences via simulation activities and outside groups to facilitate the learning modules.  For example, La Roche contracts with an outside group, called Metamorphosis,   to provide a simulation activity exposing students to realistic situations of diversity and discrimination.  The “Regions of Conflict” course for the spring term will focus on Darfur, including a live presentation by one of “lost boys” of Darfur, who is currently an area resident.

 The focus on international affairs and global understanding can also be found in the core curriculum.  For example, in one of the core history courses, “Multicultural History of the U.S.,” students discuss the arrival of dozens of different ethnic groups in America from the 1500s through to the present time.  They do so in a way that emphasizes the global interconnections between the peoples of nearly every country in the world with America’s own population.  The course examines the reasons that ethnic groups leave their own countries and the extent to which they retain ties with ‘the old country’ even after assimilating into American culture.  The course also addresses the most recent debates regarding contemporary immigration from Hispanic countries in Central America and the immigration debates recently held in Congress.  This, in turns, enables the students to appreciate the real-world, current-day implications of what global understanding and citizenship really means for Americans from different national backgrounds today, and how U.S. policy-making can be improved to better appreciate these internationally interconnected migration processes.

Other examples of the global nature of the curriculum include the University’s new Sustainable Interdisciplinary Studies minor, which has an international peace and social justice emphasis; the Honors Institute, which requires students to participate in a global or domestic intercultural co-curricular experience; and the core curriculum, which mandates both a community and a global interdisciplinary course for all students.

This emphasis on internationalization is supported by a full-time faculty that demonstrate, through their own travel and scholarship, a commitment to global issues and preparing students to be effective and ethical citizens of the world.  During the past year, faculty members traveled to 21 different countries in all parts of the world, including China, Korea, El Salvador, Guatemala, Malta, India, Korea, Qatar, Liberia, France, Greece and Italy.   In addition, La Roche faculty members have taught on Semester at Sea; taught media and democracy in Kosovo and video documentary production in Liberia; served as  co-editor of the eight-volume International Encyclopedia of Revolution and Protest (Wiley-Blackwell, 2009);  been interviewed by  Radio France International (Paris) and Dakar Radio (Senegal, West Africa);  and presented papers at conferences around the world, including Guinea-Bissau,West Africa; Porto Alegre, Brazil; and Mumbai, India.  

Faculty members have also been active locally, helping to spread a message of international understanding among area institutions.  A prominent example is the Kerr Institute of African History, Culture and Politics, which began as a faculty initiative.  The Kerr Institute, named in honor of the College’s former president, promotes the study and research of Africa at La Roche College and integrates students and faculty interested in Africa at La Roche into a program of linkage to African historical, cultural and political issues.  As part of its mission, the Institute links up with other Pittsburgh colleges and universities focused on Africa-related events and scholarship.
Not surprisingly, the University’s focus on global education also extends to providing opportunities for students to study in other countries and regions.  Some of these are more traditional, such as programs in Rome and Paris.  Others are more tailored to specific La Roche programs, such as an opportunity for interior design students to travel to Scandinavia to gain firsthand experience of design concepts in those nations.  And still others are to less traveled parts of the world that reinforce the University’s focus on peace and justice, such as recent trips to Mali and Niger, including opportunities for students to live with members of the Tuareg tribe.

In keeping with its commitment to expanding the students’ global awareness, The University has initiated an innovative new approach to study abroad opportunities that will facilitate each student’s ability to experience a different culture.  Incoming freshmen in fall 2009 will be the first class at La Roche University to experience the new Study Abroad – Study USA program, a program that will give students the opportunity to experience cultural diversity here in the United States and outside of its borders upon completion of a specific number of credits, generally by the end of sophomore year. The best part, from the perspective of the students and their families, is that the new tuition structure will cover the cost of the short-term undergraduate study abroad or at-home experience.  the University believes that this will be a real benefit to many students who desire to experience a culture other than their own, but who have not pursued such opportunities because of concerns about the cost of doing so.
Students will be able to choose from an abroad experience in Central or North America, Europe, Africa, or Asia, or they will be able to stay right here in the U.S. and have a unique experience – at no additional cost except incidentals.  This unique intercultural experience greatly distinguishes La Roche from other colleges and universities and allows students to gain a cultural learning experience that lasts a lifetime while pursuing their undergraduate degree at an excellent educational facility.
Initially, out of country experiences will be available in Asia, Africa, Canada, Europe and Latin America.  The United States experiences will range from programs in Washington, D.C., which focus on government and national security, to health and welfare issues in areas affected by natural disasters.  Our current outreach efforts are part of an Alternative Spring Break in Louisiana.  There, our students help to rebuild towns that were affected by Hurricane Katrina.

In keeping with the University’s mission, La Roche is preparing students to become globally aware while promoting peace and justice in our world.  Students who have these travel experiences learn the importance of giving back to the communities – large and small – around them.  Studying abroad will give students the chance to understand other cultures and to begin to develop the ability   to collaborate with different peoples, which will become increasingly important in today’s global marketplace.  


From the founding of the Pacem In Terris program 16 years ago, La Roche College has continued on the path to increasing its international focus, preparing its students to promote understanding among peoples and cultures and to succeed in today’s increasingly global society.