Winter 2015

With Us


Message from the Dean

Dear Alumni and Friends,

Preparing our students to achieve in an increasingly interconnected world has been a major focus of our liberal arts education here at Seattle University. We continue to expand offerings for our students to study abroad, participate in global activities, and pursue a specialization through the Global Awareness Program, which is open to all students of any major in any college. This issue reflects the increasing attention we have paid to issues beyond our borders.

You will read here about two faculty-student research projects, one set in Ecuador and one looking at the challenges facing American and international students when they return home from studying abroad. You will learn how an alumna used her personal experiences to conduct a public education campaign about epilepsy in Mexico. We also highlight students who are using their Spanish and social science studies as they intern at a local foundation that supports work in Chiapas.

Our efforts to help students develop their cross-cultural competency and appreciate diversity are evident in the annual “Imagining the World” photo competition. Save the date and plan to join me for the opening reception on May 7. On view in the Kinsey Gallery will be wonderful photos and the personal statements of students who have studied abroad as well as international students who are studying here on campus. Look for more information about this gallery exhibit, lectures, and events in the upcoming events calendar and future e-letters. And thank you for all your support. It makes a big difference in our student academic experience.

David V. Powers

Above the Treeline: Protecting the Páramo in Ecuador

If the government pays poor villagers, will they voluntarily stop farming to protect the environment? Will people change their behaviors if they have an incentive to protect essential forests even if it threatens their livelihoods? These are questions Professors Tanya Hayes and Felipe Murtinho and their student researchers are seeking to answer for the government of Ecuador.

The páramo, a vital but fragile ecosystem in the high Andes, supplies water to all of Ecuador and other parts of South America. For centuries, peasant communities have used its grassland and meadows to meet their basic needs. As population grew, villagers burned sections of the páramo to increase land for animal farming.  Because of changes to the ecosystem from burning and overgrazing, the páramo now has depleted soils and diminished capacity to store water.

"The páramo is threatened, and without this vital ecosystem, the future of water in Ecuador is at stake," said Professor Tanya Hayes, who teaches environmental studies and public policy.

The high Andes communities that use the páramo are extremely poor, with no running potable water and very limited access to good health care and education. Families may have a small area to grow their own potatoes and vegetables, but communities collectively use the upper part of the mountains, the páramo, for farming cows, sheep, and alpacas.  

To protect the páramo, the Ecuadorian government has put in place a voluntary "payment for conservation" policy. The government pays peasants to stop cattle grazing and burning.

"Participating communities have used their payments to rebuild schools, invest in community services, and improve food production through guinea pig farming," said Professor Murtinho, who teaches in the International Studies Department and Master of Public Administration program.

With a National Science Foundation grant, Hayes and Murtinho are evaluating the impact of the policy. They conducted field studies in 67 communities, 44 participating in the program and 23 not participating. The researchers interviewed community leaders and surveyed households to determine whether the cost and benefits of participation impacted land use behavior. Assisted by Seattle University student researchers, they also offered valuable workshops to those communities seeking more income-producing activities.

“Several communities are extremely interested in becoming ecotourism sites, and our students are helping them decide how to do that,” Hayes said. “Students led discussions about the advantages and disadvantages of ecotourism, what communities might have to offer as an ecotourism location, what they might need to do to be successful, and what marketing efforts they would be required to make. This type of participatory workshop gave our students a valuable experience in how to conduct work in rural areas.”

Back on campus this fall, students assisted with the hard work of statistical analysis and mapping the data, putting into practice what they’ve learned in class. Senior Taylor McDowell found that his coursework in Environmental Studies and Geographic Information Systems gave him both the theoretical framework and the technical tools to work on a project like this.

“There’s nothing quite like actually conducting the research itself that would prepare you for the professional world,” he said. “I was able to apply standard technical research practices and methodologies in an actual research situation while using the classroom concepts and theories that I learned.”

When the project is completed in June 2015, Hayes and Murtinho will present their findings to Ecuador’s Ministry of the Environment, regional agencies, and fellow researchers.

“Frequently people are looking for win-win solutions, and those solutions are not easy,” Hayes said. The project in Ecuador is a good example of a strong program that links conservation and benefits. While it’s too soon to see if the policy is a success, we can determine whether there have been positive behavioral changes. That would be progress, but still there is work to do.”

Watch the video:


Three Interns, One Equal Heart

They work out of a one-room office just south of campus.  As interns at the One Equal Heart Foundation, Ella Youtsey (left), Sara Haugen (middle), and Taylor Denton (right) use their language skills, classroom learning, and volunteer experiences to support families and communities of Tseltal Maya.

One Equal Heart provides funding to support leadership development and locally sustainable agricultural practices among the Tseltal Maya in Chiapas, Mexico.  To address high rates of infant mortality and malnutrition, the Seattle nonprofit partners with local organizations to train indigenous communities to make nutritional supplements from crops that they grow. The foundation also supports environmental practices, such as sustainable gardens and worm-composting, as well as leadership development.

“It’s both empowerment and sustainability for long-term health and well-being,” Youtsey said. “I help with special events, blog posts, social media, and translation.”

Youtsey, who graduated in December, majored in Spanish and minored in International Studies. She planned to study nursing when she came to Seattle University, but after taking a Spanish class, she changed her major. As a senior, she traveled to Puebla, Mexico, to study at the Universidad Iberoamericana, where Seattle University has had a program for more than 20 years.

“We had lots of classes that were about culture and history,” she said. “They opened my mind to accepting different cultures and their practices. I gained an understanding of what they needed to do to better themselves within their own cultural context. Those experiences are close to my heart and influential in my life.”

Youtsey spent additional time in Mexico, volunteering for Fundacion en Via. The nonprofit provides interest-free microloans to women in Oaxaca. On tours for visitors, she explained local culture and customs, gave them an understanding of development issues, and showed them first-hand how microfinance works and the impact it has on the community.

Youtsey plans to get a master’s degree in international education and work in a study-abroad program.

Sara Haugen also had solid language skills and volunteer experiences before joining One Equal Heart as an intern. In Oaxaca with Amigos de los Americas she taught workshops on hygiene to children and coordinated two community murals with her volunteer partners. For Hope of the Pokomchi, she served as a cultural liaison and translator in Guatemala.

She came to Seattle University for our extensive programs in international studies, Spanish, and nonprofit leadership.

Haugen studied at the Jesuit-run Universidad Centroamericana in Nicaragua last summer, which is a new study-abroad program affiliated with Seattle University. Now with her internship she is gaining greater understanding of how international nonprofits work in the United States as well as how to bring long-term sustainability and leadership to lead communities toward self-sufficiency. After graduation, she plans to volunteer again in Guatemala and then return to work in Seattle “where there are a ton of nonprofits.”

Like Youtsey, Taylor Denton stumbled on Spanish as a freshman.

“Spanish clicked for me,” she said. “I decided to go on the Puebla program my sophomore year.”

“Puebla is awesome,” she continued. “This was the first time I traveled internationally on my own, but Iwas comfortable having the safety net of my host family and my professors. I got on the bus and explored. I got a good grasp of the culture and expanded my knowledge.”

Denton decided to major Cultural Anthropology and then added Spanish as second major.

Studying Spanish at Seattle University goes beyond just learning a language. The program focuses on culture, history, and the ways people interact. Cultural Anthropology students examine cultures comparatively. Classes in ethnography, visual anthropology, and culture and personality provide students with a well-rounded view of what anthropology is.

At One Equal Heart, Denton is learning about fundraisers and helping with social media and outreach.

“I can use my Spanish and my knowledge of cultural differences and cultural acceptance and apply it to a real-world situation, which is what we are all striving to do.” she said.

Denton is interested in working for nonprofits and may pursue a master’s in public health, concentrating on global or community health, after graduation.

Watch the video:


Recent Alumni Profile: Leigh Schommer '12

Soon after graduating in 2012 with majors in Sociology and Spanish, Leigh Schommer underwent brain surgery for her epilepsy. The recovery was long and slow, but the improvement was astounding. When the number and frequency of seizures diminished dramatically, Spanish Professor Jaime Perozo encouraged her to continue her Spanish studies while teaching English at the Universidad Iberoamericana in Puebla, Mexico. What began as a 2-month commitment to teach soon turned into a 12-month stay with a full workload of public education activities around epilepsy.

“When I first got to Puebla, I was looking for an organization where I could volunteer for epilepsy, but couldn’t find anything,” Schommer said. “There are so many events in the U.S. that support epilepsy research and raise awareness so I decided that if I couldn’t be in the U.S. to participate, I would create something here.”

That was the beginning of Grupo de Autoayuda Epilepsia Puebla. Schommer met with neurologists and other healthcare providers and gave her first presentation at a hospital in June 2013. That day, she and a local neurologist gave a presentation on the basic factors of epilepsy and then hosted the “Walk for Epilepsy” at a local park where they handed out brochures.

“At the end of the day, a woman came to our table asking about our group,” Schommer recalled. “When I began to explain, I saw that she had tears in her eyes. She told me that her son had been diagnosed with epilepsy a long time ago, and they had never met anyone else with this condition. She hugged me and asked how she could help with the group.”

Since that time, the group has had five events, eleven monthly meetings on different themes related to epilepsy, and two conferences, including a regional conference with attendees from various states and a university conference that included students. In addition, Schommer gave more than 50 presentations in schools and businesses, and new groups have formed in seven other states in Mexico.

“Epilepsy can occur at any time in one’s life,” Schommer said. “The intention is to let people with epilepsy know that they are not alone.”

Today, Schommer is back in the United States pursuing a Master in Social Work at Portland State University. She plans to return to Latin America to spread the word about epilepsy when she graduates.

Policy Incubator Competition Puts Classroom Learning to the Test

“The skills that are needed for the most important work in public policy – finding solutions to complicated problems—are innovation and creativity,” said Faculty Advisor Rich Nafziger. Nafziger devised the Policy Incubator Competition two years ago to give Master of Public Administration (MPA) students the opportunity of presenting a policy solution before a distinguished group of community leaders actively engaged in public policy debates, formation, and implementation.

“There is a lot of emphasis in all our classes on case studies,” he said. “In our polarized society with competing interests, teamwork becomes all the more important. Our students have to work together to have to find common interests and reach agreement. The incubator is a one-man show that tests assumptions and practicality.” 

The Policy Incubator Competition requires a policy solution to an existing problem. Each competitor prepares a written paper that analyzes a problem, examines research, and proposes a solution. A team of reviewers narrows down the number of competitors. Finalists present their proposals before a panel of judges and an audience of faculty, students, and policy makers. Judges have included Sally Clark, City Council President; Fred Jarrett, Deputy King County Executive; Dr. Constance Rice, Managing Director, Casey Family Programs; Kim Justice, Policy Analyst, Washington State Budget & Policy Center, and Tony Lee, Advocacy Director, Solid Ground.

Past policy proposals have covered a range of topics, including housing affordability, transit congestion, drunk driving, and criminal activity. Last year’s competition winner, Kara Preas (MPA ‘15), proposed a policy addressing regulations of human milk banks. Because of her work, changes have already been made that will save the lives of many pre-term infants both in the United States and internationally.

This winter, students will again have the opportunity to present their policy proposals before policy makers. The public is invited to attend presentations by the finalists on February 18, 2015, from 5 – 7:30 p.m. in Casey Commons.

“I want students to think outside the box, to take big risks that solve big problems with new ideas,” Nafziger said. “The Policy Incubator Competition challenges our students to put the skills they learn in the classroom to the real-world test.”

Watch the video:


Faculty Profile: Rick Malleus, Communication

Professor Rick Malleus first arrived in the United States from Zimbabwe as an 18-year-old international student. Now a professor in the Communication Department, he recently conducted research on the challenges facing Seattle University students when they return home from studying abroad.

“The reentry experience is universal,” Malleus said. “Most international students don’t stay in their host cultures, and American students who study abroad often experience a difficult transition when they come back to campus. A lot has been written about culture shock, but there is very little research on the reentry experience.”

As an undergraduate international student at Macalaster College in St. Paul, Malleus became interested in communication studies, a discipline not offered in Zimbabwe. Communication studies encompass a range of topics, including interpersonal, small-group, and organizational communication. Because of his personal experiences, he focused his research on intercultural communication and, more recently, on the reentry experience.

“When people have a significant experience in a different culture and return home, they go through a transition that is complex and multi-faceted. It’s a fuzzy, in-between time,” he said.

Seattle University places strong emphasis on preparing students for today’s global economy. American students are encouraged to study abroad and participate in international internships. International students, approximately 10 percent of the student body, usually return home when they complete their education. Malleus explored the Seattle University student experience of reentry.  Working with the Education Abroad office, he analyzed data from more than 100 student surveys.  International student Tooba Dilshad, a senior Strategic Communication major class of 2014, assisted on the project.

Last October, Malleus presented his initial findings before a packed audience of students and faculty. He shared with them his first reentry experience, returning to Zimbabwe after two years of living in Minnesota. He emphasized that the transition of reentry has both challenges and opportunities:

“Students generally return home more engaged and more globally aware. They may go through a period of discernment that leads to a change in course of study or career plans. Personal growth, increased confidence, and a new worldview often result.”

“Having this transitional period of adjustment when they go home is normal, but it can be difficult; they are not alone in this experience,” he was quick to add. “There are ways though that we can help them manage the transition.”

Malleus plans to develop tools for both students and educators to ease the reentry transition. He hopes to finalize his research and present his findings next year at the International Academy for Intercultural Research Conference in Norway.

Regardless of whether a student goes abroad or is an international student studying in the United States, Malleus encourages all students to take classes in communication:

“Communication is foundational for living in our global economy. An intercultural communication course is vital to understand the fundamentals of communication and build relationships. In almost every job communication is required, from presentation skills to running teams effectively. A communication course rounds out any student’s education.” 

Watch the video:


Advancement Update

By David Chow

As I looked back over 2014, I saw that the College of Arts and Sciences made significant strides in providing opportunities for our students to work directly with faculty on meaningful research, engage globally, and participate in the community. Our students grow personally and professionally from these experiences, as you have often read in our e-letters.

The Dean's Research Fund is an outstanding example of the value of your support. By working closely with faculty, our students experience more than the rigors of research. They hone the skills that readily translate into the workplace and become more aware that the knowledge they've gained in and outside the classroom is the stepping stone to a meaningful life.

We are now at the halfway point in our efforts to raise more than $700,000 to support the College of Arts and Sciences. Please make your gift today to the Dean's Research Fund at this link. Thank you for helping us to fulfill our mission of educating the whole person.