BRATTLEBORO -- From 1964 until today, SIT has tried to make a difference. Many would agree that it has made a difference around the globe.
"I’m so thankful today, I don’t need to suppress," said SIT Graduate Institute International Education Associate Professor and Chairwoman Sora Friedman as some tears fell from her eyes. "I’m so overcome with emotion. The common element we have here is to make the world a better place."
Provost John Lucas told alumni, who gathered over the weekend to celebrate the 50 years of the institute’s existence, to check out the newly renovated library.
"We’re delighted at the turn out," he said. "We are completely at capacity."
There were receptions, discussions and presentations held at the Brattleboro campus starting on Friday night and ending on Sunday afternoon. Alumni who could not make it interacted through Skype and Facebook, making the point that technology has come pretty far in the last several decades.
Lucas mentioned that a new SIT center opened in Washington, D.C., and that 50 percent of its students are international. In Brattleboro, international students make up 30 percent of its roster.
"We have a real global impact," he said, adding that for the study abroad program, innovation labs in North India look at the basic needs of food while labs in Jordan look at water. "It’s exciting to see we’re the same institution but we’re also changing and we’re adapting.
Lucas encouraged everyone to ask questions and get connected. He said the position of director of alumni engagement was going to be brought back. That position would be advertised on the website, sit.edu.
During a plenary discussion on the institute, SIT Graduate Institute Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages Associate Professor Elizabeth Tannenbaum spoke of how SIT’s sense of community remains closest to her heart. She said the students tend to work together and not compete.
"As a faculty member, I see that continuing," she said. "Each group develops their own sense of community."
Adding to that thought, SIT Graduate Institute Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages Professor and Chairwoman Susan Barduhn said it was the sense of networking that stays closest to her heart.
Friedman said she tells students the greatest take away from the program will be friends. She mentioned being thrilled with the investment in the Brattleboro campus and that it had not gone away in all these years.
In 1984, she recalled the first computer making its way onto campus.
"The word network was only for people," Friedman said.
SIT Graduate Institute Intercultural Service, Leadership and Management Professor Ryland White had memories of sledding down the campus’ hill on a lunch tray, which some alumni said was reserved mostly for the Brazilian students during that time. She also remembered skinny dipping in a pond while others remembered being scared of snapping turtles in that water.
To her, the Intercultural communication, language and social change elements that the institute focuses on are still important to the institute.
"We are still reflective practitioners. I feel that is the core of staying on the cutting edge," said White.
Barduhn pointed out that the institute started as a way for the Peace Corps to train by learning languages and by the 1980s, students were learning a lot about writing grant proposals.
Today, she said a reading project seeks to improve reading education in Pakistan for 2 million students. It is being done by training 94,000 teachers for 38,000 public schools.
"We are all over the world," Barduhn concluded.
During the SIT Study Abroad plenary discussion, SIT Study Abroad Academic Director for India: Health and Human Rights Azim Khan said the program was designed in a way that had students connect and be nice to people. They learned they could disagree respectfully.
"A knowledge seeker has to be humble," he added.
By the time students graduate from Khan’s program, he says they are his friend. And every year, a Fulbright Scholar is produced. Federal grants are given for research projects approved for the Fulbright program.
Before boarding an airplane to a foreign country, students must submit a project proposal to a local review board. The board will assess to see whether it is viable, SIT Study Abroad Academic Dean for the Middle East, North Africa and Europe Said Graiouid told alumni.
Once students are out in the field, they are to pay respect and tribute to those they are studying.
Graiouid brought up a tale of a Kenyan villager who noticed all the world’s knowledge was vanishing. He set out on a journey and put each bit of knowledge he found into a bag. After several years, that man then decided to go back to his village. He looked around and found a coconut tree where he could store the collection of knowledge.
"He looked down and his son was perplexed. He yelled, ‘I need help!’ His son said, ‘Anyone with that much knowledge on his back would know I can’t help from here,’" said Graiouid.
The knowledge then fell and scattered on the ground.
"We are the elephant’s walk," said Susan Chaffin, an alumna of SIT Study Abroad program.
She studied in Kenya in 1985 and now has a career in international finance and economic development.
When asked about whether students were changing, Khan said over the last seven years, students have changed a little bit. He cited recent upgrades in technology.
"I have to remind them, ‘You are in India,’" he said. "’You are in the real world. Don’t go to the virtual world so often.’ It’s not a criticism of America. It’s all over."
Students are always changing. But to Khan, it’s up to the teachers to address the challenges that come with change.