The future of SST: Global education for all

This article originally appeared in the Spring/Summer 2019 issue of The Bulletin

BY JAN BENDER SHETLER ’78, professor of history and incoming director of international educations

LIKE MANY Goshen alumni, my Study-Service Term experience (Haiti, 1975) profoundly affected my life and career choices. What I learned there and what has continued to animate my work and scholarship as a historian of Africa is the fundamental conviction that we must learn to see the world from someone else’s perspective — to understand the complex ways that their lives have been shaped by the past and how deeply we are all intertwined in that story. As a young, idealistic college student in Haiti, I learned that in order to play any role in changing systems that impoverish some and enrich others I had to be able to understand it from the perspective of Haiti’s poor. Now that I have led SST units in Ethiopia, Tanzania and Senegal, I see that same transformation in our current students.

This program matters to a lot of us and it is still a core Goshen College distinctive. But given the reality of the reduction in the percentage of students participating in SST (see chart below), we have realized that its future needs to be reimagined and shaped in a way that ensures that we are truly providing a global education for all. 

In addition to noting the reduction in participation, we have also observed that there is a large gap between the percentage of students going on SST who are white and those who are students of color (see chart at right). They face increasing financial and scheduling barriers that keep them from taking advantage of the program. In addition, we know we need to increase and improve our communication of the tangible benefits of a global education to prospective students, current students and their parents.

During this 50th anniversary year of SST, the whole campus participated in a process of evaluation and imagining our ideal future. The year began with a Search Conference over a long weekend in September at Camp Amigo and ended with a campus conference in March. Guest speakers, faculty and students led sessions discussing different aspects of a global education geared to everyone’s needs.

The proposed changes in the program recommit us to the original 1968 vision of SST: to make this learning part of the general education program without extra cost. Lots of ideas emerged at the conference to revitalize and improve the program as the core distinctive of a Goshen College education that prepares students to become effective agents of change in a complex global society. We are excited about launching a series of initiatives next year to put in place various paths toward an immersive intercultural global education for everyone.

Here are some of the highlights of our convictions and plans:

  1. SST is still a Goshen College distinctive. We will improve and adapt it for a new set of students and a new global context.
  2. We want a unified program with one set of outcomes that are immersive and intercultural. Every Goshen student will be part of the program.
  3. We will devise different global education pathways to achieve the same set of learning goals: local and global, short and long. We believe that we can have immersive global and intercultural experiences domestically as well as abroad.
  4. We will remove financial and scheduling impediments for students so that everyone can participate. This includes large majors as well as co-curriculars, like athletics.
  5. We will develop scholarship and program growth by inviting investment in the SST endowment.
  6. We will better communicate our unique global education outcomes for careers and lives to highlight the excellence of our program.
  7. We will continue to improve the traditional SST global education program.

This anniversary year has generated a lot of momentum on campus to renew our vision for global education and make it accessible for everyone. We are excited about the prospects going forward and hope you will join us with your ideas, gifts and blessings.