Faculty Panel, Impact Award Winner Make Strong Case for International Education Excellence

This past week’s national celebration of International Education Week (IEW) provided an opportunity to learn more about ways in which University of San Diego faculty utilize resources to further their research, enhance knowledge, pass it on to students and make an impact in the world.

Intl Center - Intl Education Week Event 2019

Wednesday afternoon, the International Center’s annual IEW luncheon featured a USD faculty panel sharing its internationally-focused work and the announcement of 2019 International Impact Award winner, John Halaka, MFA, Visual Arts professor.

Six USD professors — Frank Jacobitz (Mechanical Engineering), Jo-Ellen Patterson (SOLES Marriage and Family Therapy), Peggy Mata (Hahn School of Nursing and Health Science), Alejandro Meter (Spanish), Phil Zhu (Business Finance) and David De Haan (Chemistry and Biochemistry) — have each earned one or more International Opportunity Grants (IOG). These grants, ranging from hundreds of dollars to one or two thousand dollars, typically cover the cost of attending an international conference, perhaps a plane ticket overseas for research purposes or something else that makes it easier for faculty, staff and administrator applicants to facilitate an international itinerary.

“I think this is a fantastic program because it provides opportunities to do activities in the international setting that otherwise would, to that extent, not be available to us at an institution such as USD,” said Jacobitz prior to discussing his research findings on turbulent flows, Eulerian and Lagrangian accelerations while working with faculty from different backgrounds at Aix-Marseille Universite in France and parlaying that into having study abroad trips for USD mechanical engineering students.

Patterson, whose focus is to put mental health services into primary care, displayed a picture of Palestinian physicians gathered in Amman, Jordan, with her students. Doing research with refugees and assessing their mental health care needs is just one way that an IOG grant has helped her and students get the chance to go abroad. She also shared that international experiences have benefitted students locally, which lately has been with asylum seekers. “It’s helping our students get a bigger view of the world, not just in the U.S.” Patterson said.

Mata, a clinical assistant professor and clinical placement coordinator for USD’s nursing school, received an IOG that enabled her to buy 100 Hemoglobin A1C diagnostic tools used to diagnose people for diabetes. She and her students went to the La Morita community in Tijuana, Mexico to collect data. They did a partnership with a clinic run by the Tijuana Diocese which included education on diabetes, nutrition and more. 

Meter’s most recent grant enabled him to attend an international symposium by the Modern Language Association in Lisbon, Portugal. There, he presented a photography project he has worked on for the last few years. His presentation at the conference was “A Literary Cartography of the U.S.-Mexico Border,” and it is connected to his time as a Trans-Border Institute Fellow. The photographs are portraits of writers living on the border. “This project was for the purpose of humanizing and making visible these writers who are living on both sides of the border,” Meter said.

Zhu, associate professor of finance in the USD School of Business, spoke about a key finding, a “unique disclosure requirement” done by the Shenzhen Stock Exchange, one of two in China. “They require publicly traded companies to disclose these private meetings – tell people who was in attendance, the time of the meeting and a brief summary of questions and answers discussed.”

Zhu went to China with his IOG support. He recruited 10 undergraduate students to spend their summer in San Diego going through notes published online and learned a lot about market behaviors as a result of this action.

This practice is not shared by the U.S. and other emerging countries, Zhu said, where private in-house meetings happen and key information is withheld and can affect the market’s information environment.

“What’s important about financial markets is information and if you know the information before others … you can make money. So, do you believe you have freer access to the information in this market? That’s very important. A lot of information transfers in secret channels. Many of us pay attention to annual reports, attending conference calls that are disclosed by company and are public channels, but we’re not very aware of these underground channels like the private in-house meetings. The SEC, our government, does not require companies to disclose if there is a private meeting.”

De Haan, an atmospheric chemist who studies air pollution, said his approach to his research work — after 19 years of sticking to his usual routine — has been “completely transformed” in recent years, building up with international opportunities in Mexico, Canada and France.

“Air pollution kills seven million people a year and that leads people to ask, ‘What is air pollution and how do we stop it?’”

Research, he said, rests on three approaches: Computer simulation, people who’ll fly to places to collect the pollution, bring it back and chemically analyze it. And there’s what he’s done: “I’ll see what people are finding in their pollution, buy those chemicals and go do lab simulations in controlled conditions to find out more about how chemicals are working and what they might be up to in the environment,” De Haan said.

“The first 19 years, that’s what I did,” he said. But conferences he attended in Acapulco and Toronto were his first two IOGs, but it was at another conference where he was connected to a scientist who had built a cloud chamber outside of Paris. De Haan was thrilled and he has since applied for multiple IOGs. “The last four papers I’ve published in the last two years have been with French co-authors, including research done at USD.”

Six professors on six different paths, but each one bonded by their international involvement. “It’s exciting to hear from faculty and see the diversity of the things that people are working on,” Denise Dimon, associate provost for international affairs said.

JohnHalaka-International Impact Award 19

International Impact Award Winner: John Halaka

"In recognition of sustained and deep contributions to promote global understanding through international education," is the significance of the International Impact Award, which has been given to faculty, staff and administrators since 2013.

John Halaka's work as a visual art professor, artist, filmmaker, interviewer and the subject matter for which he's dedicated himself to is both admirable and honorable. Halaka has developed extensive relationships with refugee and internally displaced communities in the West Bank, Gaza, Israel and Lebanon. Life experiences and personal narratives he has recorded with four generations of Palestinian refugees has directly informed his creative practice, teaching and more.

"Several of my trips to Palestine have been supported in part with the IOG. It helps; Without it, this would be more difficult," said Halaka, a former Fulbright Scholar awardee.

"My going there is important because I'm not an artist or scholar who simply reads books and makes images from within about it. I like doing direct fieldwork, being immersed in the culture, spending time there, listening and learning. Everything I've learned in books, and I've read dozens and dozens of books and hundreds of articles on Palestine, seems almost anemic compared to one conversation with a person there," said Halaka, who has recorded 220 interviews since 2007.

"Being on the ground makes all the difference. Being there a long time creates trust and deeper knowledge. I'm not diving in, touching in and leaving. It's a project I've worked on for 12 years and I'm going to keep working on it."

The results have produced drawings, paintings, photographs, documentary films and an oral history archive. He's currently working on a project documenting Palestinian farmers.

He does this work for two reasons: "One, I record these stories so that they don't become extinct, that they don't die when the elders die. Two, I record these stories to help teach, not just my students, but teach our culture in the West about things they really know nothing about but still have tremendous influence and impact."

Other Impact Award nominees: Jeffrey Burns (Director, Harpst Center for Catholic Thought and Culture); David Harnish (Professor/Chair, Music); Frank Jacobitz (Professor, Mechanical Engineering), Ian Martin (Counseling Program Director, SOLES); Chris Nayve (Associate VP for Community Engagement and Anchor Initiatives); Truc Ngo (Professor, Industrial and Systems Engineering); Reyes Quezada (Professor/Chair, Learning and Teaching SOLES); Maria Silva (Director, Neighborhood and Community Engaged Partnerships, Mulvaney Center); Randy Willoughby (Professor, Political Science and International Relations).

— Ryan T. Blystone

All photos in the first slideshow by Ryan T. Blystone. Images in the second photo slideshow by Ryan T. Blystone and John Halaka.

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