International Education Week Underway at UM

OXFORD, Miss. – The University of Mississippi community is celebrating International Education Week the week of Nov. 12 with a number of events slated for campus.

“(International Education Week) is a joint initiative of the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Department of Education to promote the benefits of international education and exchange,” said Blair McElroy, UM director of study abroad and senior international officer.

“Each year, International Education Week is celebrated by universities nationwide, and the Office of Global Engagement is proud to put together a variety of activities and educational events together with units on campus to promote international education and global citizenship.”

With free events ranging from information sessions to lectures and films, International Education Week will have something for everyone. The schedule includes:

Monday (Nov. 12); 5:30 p.m.; Croft Institute, Room 107; Lecture: “On the Road with an Axe and a Pen: Temporary Migration to 19th Century Turkey in the Life Narrative of Central European Journeymen.” Richard Wittman, associate director of the Orient-Institut Istanbul in Istanbul, will discuss the life narratives of journeymen and how they afford new insights into how the temporary migration and stay in a foreign culture was made part of journeymen’s life stories and how it shaped their sense of belonging.

Tuesday (Nov. 13); noon, Lyceum, Room 200; Lunch and Learn with Khalid Al-Gudah, director of the Modern Arabic Language International Center in Amman, Jordan, who will discuss the Arabic language study abroad program at the center. RSVP required for this event.

Tuesday (Nov. 13), 6 p.m., Barnard Observatory, Film: “People’s Republic of Desire.” The documentary about the live-streaming culture in China will be screened and followed by a question-and-answer period with Hao Wu, director of the film.

Wednesday (Nov. 14); 3:30-5 p.m.; Lamar Hall, Room 131; Forum for UM Faculty: “International Students in Your Classroom.” The discussion will feature panelists and other colleagues-in-instruction who will talk about positive educational opportunities that international students bring to the Ole Miss campus. Refreshments will be served.

Wednesday (Nov. 14); 6 p.m.; Croft Institute, Room 107; Student Panel: Ole Miss students are invited to attend a panel discussion at which Freeman grantees will talk about their experiential learning experiences in East Asia last summer. The Freeman grant provides $7,500 to students who want to participate in an internship in East Asia in summer 2019. All majors are welcome. Dinner will be provided and those interested in applying for this grant are encouraged to ask questions and hear from this year’s grantees about their experiences.

Thursday (Nov. 15), 1:30-2:45 p.m., Center for Manufacturing Excellence Boardroom, Pronunciation Session. All are invited to join Intensive English Program faculty and students who will discuss pronunciation in several different languages.

Thursday (Nov. 15), 6:30-8:30 p.m., Gertrude C. Ford Center for the Performing Arts, International Culture Night. All are invited to join student members of the International and American Student Alliance for IASA’s International Cultural Night. Attendees will learn about the many cultures represented on campus.

Friday (Nov. 16); 2-4 p.m.; Brevard Hall, first floor; Cultural Cafe. This come-and-go event provides an opportunity to socialize at the weekly Cultural Cafe, meet new friends and connect with other students. Pre-College Programs representatives will provide ice cream and information that can be shared with friends and family about opportunities for international high school-age students at UM.

For more information about International Education Week, contact the Office of Global Engagement at 662-915-7404 or email

History Makers: Three UM Students, 1 alumna among Rhodes Scholarship Finalists

Jarvis Benson, Jaz Brisack, John Chappell, Chinelo Ibekwe set to compete for coveted award

Jarvis Benson

OXFORD, Miss. – For the first time ever, the University of Mississippi boasts four 2019 finalists for the prestigious Rhodes Scholarships, which draw students from around the world to study at the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom. 

Jarvis Benson, Jaz Brisack and John Chappell will compete for Rhodes Scholarships in meetings Nov. 16-17 in Birmingham, Alabama. In addition to those current UM students, Chinelo Ibekwe, a 2018 Ole Miss chemical engineering graduate from Lagos, Nigeria, was named a finalist in the Rhodes Scholarships for West Africa program. She will interview Dec. 1 in her category.

UM has had 25 Rhodes Scholars and many Rhodes finalists in its history, but never four finalists in one year.

Having four finalists is a testament not only to the students, but also to the university’s faculty, said Douglass Sullivan-González, dean of the university’s Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College, where Benson, Brisack and Chappell are students. 

“Our pride and joy are immeasurable,” Sullivan-González said. “That our university has produced four finalists for the prestigious Rhodes scholarship means that our faculty and staff have worked with some incredible scholars who have stood up to the questions of the day, and the world has taken notice.

“Once again, our flagship university produces an intellectual nexus to challenge and provoke, and our students engage this moment with verve. What a great time to be working at the University of Mississippi.”

The Rhodes Scholarships, which were created in 1902, bring outstanding students from many countries to the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom. Besides “intellectual distinction,” the selection committee seeks excellence in qualities of mind and of person, which combined offer the promise of effective service to the world in the decades ahead.

Rhodes Scholars receive tuition, travel, room and board, and a stipend for two years of study at Oxford University, with the possibility of being renewed for a third year.

Benson, a senior Croft international studies and Spanish major from Grenada, serves as president of the UM Black Student Union. He has worked on civil rights, voting rights, immigration and education and was a 2018 Truman Scholarship finalist for Mississippi. He’s looking forward to representing the university. 

“To be selected as a Rhodes finalist is surreal,” Benson said. “I am so blessed to have the chance to represent the university. While I am very excited for the opportunity to further my education at Oxford, I am more excited to show that people who look like me are able to attend and thrive in academic environments.

“To be selected as a finalist, I hope, is to show that it is possible.” 

Jaz Brisack

Brisack, a senior general studies and journalism major from Oxford, is the 2018 Truman Scholar for Mississippi and has a long history as a champion for human, civil and labor rights in Mississippi. She is president of the College Democrats, a frequent contributor to The Daily Mississippian and was a teacher-adviser for the Sunflower Freedom Project in 2016. 

“The U.K.’s historical dominance on the world stage, and Oxford’s position as that empire’s center of intellectual thought, make this school and this degree program the perfect place to deepen my understanding of how power structures emerge, evolve and can best be influenced or fundamentally altered,” Brisack said. “Interacting with professors and other students who are engaging with these issues from myriad global perspectives will give me the opportunity to critically challenge my own ideas and learn from others’ ranges of experience.”

Chappell, a senior international studies and Arabic major from Albuquerque, New Mexico, co-founded Mississippi Votes and works on international human and civil rights. He is a 2017 Barksdale Scholar.

John Chappell

He said he’s thrilled to be in the competition with Brisack and Benson, both of whom he said are friends and partners in community organizing and coalition building at Ole Miss. Being selected is a testament to the people and communities who have made him who he is today, Chappell said.

“I absolutely could not have come this far without the support of the Croft Institute, Honors College and broader university community, as well as the people who have helped me create homes away from home in Mississippi and abroad,” Chappell said. “My family and hometown community of Albuquerque also make me who I am, and I hope to make them proud in my future career.”

Last year, Ibekwe was a semifinalist for the Rhodes Scholarships for West Africa program , which was unveiled in 2017 to support innovative young leaders in West Africa. Ibekwe was a SMBHC student.

Chinelo Ibekwe

Her long-term goal is to serve as Nigeria’s minister of health. She is particularly passionate about introducing advanced technology into the country’s health sector, as well as reforming maternal and child health care policies.

“As Africa is viewed as the last frontier in development, it is important that the next generation of leaders and policy makers – Rhodes Scholars – understands Africa’s cultural and political landscape,” Ibekwe said. “I look forward to tapping into the diverse perspectives in the Rhodes Scholar community to prepare myself for the challenges that I may experience on the journey to prosperity for Africa.”

Eight UM Students Earn Prestigious Croft Scholarships

Exceptional scholars receive $4,000 per semester to further studies

The 2018 UM Croft Scholars are (front, from left) David McDonald, Emma Lane, Akshaya Vijayasankar and Delaney Smith, and (back) Jess Cooley, Olivia Jaramillo, Reed Peets and Ava Cooper. Photo by Joe Worthem

OXFORD, Miss. – Eight students at the University of Mississippi‘s Croft Institute for International Studies are recipients of this year’s distinguished Croft Scholarships.

The prestigious scholarships pay up to $32,000 over four years, and the funds can be combined with other scholarships. Croft Scholars retain the funds as long as they stay in the international studies major and maintain a 3.4 grade-point average both in the major and overall.

The eight students are Jess Cooley, Ava Cooper, Olivia Jaramillo, Emma Lane, David McDonald, Reed Peets, Delaney Smith and Akshaya Vijayasankar.

For their international studies major, Croft students typically select a regional concentration from among East Asia, Europe, Latin America and the Middle East, and a related foreign language before their first semester in the program. Students later select a thematic concentration from among global economics and business, global health, international governance and politics, and social and cultural identity.

“We are very excited about this group of Croft Scholars,” said Oliver Dinius, Croft executive director. “Their chosen foreign languages represent all of Croft’s four regions and they have already expressed broad thematic interests, although they will not have to declare that concentration until their sophomore year.

“Croft Scholars often are among the most dynamic and involved international studies majors, and they are an essential part of making the program special.”

Of more than 217 applicants to the Croft Institute this year, 128 were admitted, and from that pool, the admissions committee selected 29 prospective students to interview for the scholarships. They answered follow-up questions about their application essays and questions about current affairs, their intellectual interests and their motivations for pursuing a bachelor’s degree in international studies.

A native of Laurel and graduate of West Jones High School, Cooley is studying Spanish with a concentration on Latin America.

“Being a Croft Scholar is a blessing and genuinely humbling because my cohort is full of outstanding students,” Cooley said. “The highly regarded Croft Institute is why I came to the University of Mississippi, and this is because Croft provides so many opportunities for me to pursue my passion of studying cultures, global economics and business, and language.”

Cooper, a native of Knoxville, Tennessee, graduated from Berean Christian High School and is studying Chinese with a concentration on East Asia.

Jaramillo is a native of Murfreesboro, Tennessee, and a graduate of Central Magnet School who is studying Spanish with a concentration on Latin America.

“As a recipient of the Croft Scholarship, I have the opportunity to become a more educated global citizen and continue on the path to fluency with Spanish,” Jaramillo said. “I feel very blessed to have received a fully funded undergraduate education in such a prestigious organization.”

Lane is from La Grange, Kentucky, and a graduate of Oldham County High School who is studying Arabic with a concentration on the Middle East.

“For me, my college experience depended on this Croft Scholarship,” Lane said. “It has allowed me to live in Pittman (Hall) among my other Honors College peers, and it allowed me to attend Ole Miss without taking out any loans.

“I am thrilled to have the opportunity to graduate from college without any debt, and this provides me the means to travel abroad during and after my time here at Ole Miss.”

From Madison, McDonald graduated from Madison Central High School and is studying Russian with a concentration on Europe.

“I felt very honored to receive a scholarship from the Croft Institute,” McDonald said. “I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to study what I’m passionate about at Croft, and this scholarship is what helped make all of that possible.”

A graduate of Jackson Preparatory School and native of Jackson, Peets is studying Spanish with a concentration on Latin America.

“It is an awesome honor to be recognized by such an outstanding institution,” Peets said. “To have my name among the top scholars of the Croft Institute is a humbling responsibility.

“I see this award as an opportunity to become a leader among leaders – to strive for further growth within a group of diverse students ripe with a passion for exploration.”

Smith is from Overland Park, Kansas, and graduated from Saint Thomas Aquinas High School. She is studying German with a concentration on Europe.

“I’m so honored to be a student of the Croft Institute and to have been chosen as a recipient of the Croft Scholarship,” Smith said. “The Croft Institute allows me to study a subject that I’m passionate about alongside incredibly gifted classmates.

“Being named a scholar within my cohort is very humbling, and I am incredibly grateful for the opportunities to further my education that this scholarship will provide me.”

An Oxford native, Akshaya Vijayasankar is a graduate of Oxford High School studying Spanish with a concentration on Latin America.

“I am extremely grateful and humbled to be a recipient of this award,” Vijayasankarsaid. “The Croft Institute of International Studies has allowed me to pursue my passion for studying global health care and Spanish, and receiving this scholarship has put me one step closer to achieving my dream.

“This scholarship made it possible for me to attend this prestigious institution, where I’m surrounded by peers who are just as ardent (as I am) about learning new cultures, languages and politics.”

Freeman Foundation Renews Grant for Asia Internships

Information sessions start this week for interested students

A grant from the Freeman Foundation for a UM student internship program in Eastern Asia has been renewed for 2019. Summer intern grantees for 2018 include (front row, from left) Meredith Brown, Tyler Caple, Emily Rodriguez, Emma Scott, Tina Ng, Navodit Paudel, Sydney Bush, Jasmine Nguyen and Lucy De la Cruz, and (back row, from left) David Pfaehler, Jordan Holman, Sarah Liese, Sarah Berry, Mo Karzon, Stewart Eaton and Daria Herasymova. Submitted photo by Joe Worthem

OXFORD, Miss. – University of Mississippi students can again participate in a select internship program in Eastern Asia next summer, thanks to the renewal of a grant from the Freeman Foundation of Stowe, Vermont.

The programUM Experiential Learning in Eastern Asia, will allow 18 undergraduates to complete a summer internship of at least eight weeks in summer 2019. Each recipient will receive a $7,500 participation stipend from UM – with $5,000 of that coming from the Freeman Foundation grant and the other $2,500 provided by the university’s Office of Global Engagement and the successful applicants’ respective Ole Miss school(s) or college.

Last year was the first year UM received the grant, and 17 students participated. The university recently received news the grant was renewed for summer 2019 internships.

“We are excited that the Freeman Foundation has renewed the internship grant based on the work we put into designing this new program,” said Oliver Dinius, executive director of the Croft Institute for International Studies. “It lines up perfectly with both the university’s and the Croft Institute’s institutional goals for internationalization and experiential learning.

“We will draw on the experience of our first cohort to get many more students excited about this opportunity.”

Students interested in learning more about the program are encouraged to attend upcoming information sessions. The sessions, held in Croft Institute, Room 305, are scheduled for noon Wednesday (Oct. 17), noon Oct. 23, 4 p.m. Oct. 24 and noon Oct. 31. Additional information sessions are being scheduled for the week of Nov. 5-9.

“Students interested in the program will learn about the application process, the benefits, paths to secure an internship and hear from past Freeman grantees,” said Blair McElroy, UM senior international officer and director of study abroad.

UM Experiential Learning in Eastern Asia funds internships, not study abroad programs. Grantees must intern full time, at least 20 hours per week, for a minimum of eight weeks.

Freeman grantees must be full-time, degree-seeking undergraduate students in good academic standing in the fall of 2018, spring 2019 and fall 2019. Applicants cannot be in their last year of school. Students do not have to be U.S. citizens but cannot use the grant to intern in their home country.

International students must be four-year students to apply. There are no foreign language proficiency requirements to receive a grant, but proficiency in a relevant foreign language may strengthen an application.

The priority application deadline is Nov. 30.

Dinius administers the program and works with Joshua Howard, Croft associate professor of history and international studies; Bree Starnes, Croft coordinator for alumni relations and career planning; Minjoo Oh, associate professor of sociology; and McElroy to design the application process, select award recipients and assist students as they prepare for internships.

The goal of the Freeman Foundation’s grant is to help students gain real-life experience while interacting regularly with local populations. Established in 1994 by the estate of AIG co-founder Mansfield Freeman, the foundation’s general mission is “to strengthen the bonds of friendship between this country and those of the Far East” and “to stimulate an exchange of ideas in economic and cultural fields which will help create mutual understanding.”

Headed by Mansfield’s grandson, Graeme Freeman, the foundation donates annually to programs such as study abroad scholarships for Asian and American students and The National Consortium for Teaching About Asia, which has supported the Croft Institute’s efforts to strengthen teaching about East Asia for more than 15 years.

This grant lets the Croft Institute and other participating campus units deliver on the university’s commitment to educate and engage global citizens and to support experiential learning, two core principles in the university’s Flagship Forward strategic plan.

Students chosen for UM Experiential Learning in Eastern Asia will learn how a foreign culture affects the work environment and help prepare them to succeed.

Grant recipients from summer 2018 were Meredith Brown and Emma Scott, both of Oxford; Sarah Berry, Stewart Eaton, Mo Karzon and Jasmine Nguyen, all of Brandon; Lucy De la Cruz, of Southaven; Tina Ng, of Walls; Sydney Bush, of Gulfport; Jordan Holman, of Petal; Tyler Caple, of Huntsville, Alabama; Sarah Liese, of St. Louis; Scott Givhan, of West Hollywood, California; Emily Rodriguez, of Portland, Oregon; David Pfaehler, of Independence, Kentucky; Daria Herasymova, of Ukraine; and Navodit Paudel, of Nepal.

For more information about the UM Experiential Learning in Eastern Asia program, including eligible countries, the application process, recipient responsibilities and more, visit

Croft Institute Marks Its 20th Anniversary Friday

Events include alumni panels, commemoration ceremony

Since its first graduating class in 2001, 520 students have graduated from the Croft Institute for International Studies. Photo by Nathan Latil/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

OXFORD, Miss. – The Croft Institute for International Studies at the University of Mississippi celebrates its 20th anniversary Friday (Oct. 5) with several events for UM alumni, students, faculty and staff.

The institute welcomed its first cohort in 1998 after being created following a generous $60 million donation from the Joseph C. Bancroft Charitable and Educational Fund in September 1997.

In its 20-year history, 520 UM students have graduated from the institute. The intensive foreign language studies, at least a semester of study abroad and the passionate work of Croft faculty and staff have created an institute and legions of graduates who have changed the UM campus, the state of Mississippi and the world.

Equipped with these international skills, Croft alumni work around the globe in nongovernmental organizations, public sector occupations such as the military or the U.S. Department of State, and fields ranging from banking and finance to business and manufacturing. Similarly, Croft students are preparing themselves for global careers during their coursework at Croft and when they study abroad.

That past and the future of Croft is being celebrated this Friday with a series of events. Alumni of the Croft Institute will speak to current students about their careers in a set of alumni panels. The commemoration ceremony in the afternoon formally celebrates Croft’s 20 years of success, and the evening reception provides an opportunity for alumni from different cohorts and current students to meet and mingle.

“We are excited about celebrating the Croft Institute’s 20th anniversary,” said Oliver Dinius, Croft executive director and associate professor of history. “This is a wonderful opportunity to bring together current students with all the people who – over the last 20 years – have made Croft into a special place: the generous donors who supported the institute’s founding, the administrators who offered the vision for a special program, the faculty who created the excitement in the classroom and the Croft alumni who put in the work to earn the degree and turn it into an exciting career.

“Personally, I am thrilled to see many of the former students with whom I had the opportunity to work over the last 14 years.”

The events include:

Alumni Panels and Breakout Sessions, 10 a.m.-noon, Joseph C. Bancroft Conference Room (Croft Institute, Room 107) – There will be two separate sessions: 10-11 a.m. and 11 a.m.-noon. Each session is split into two parts: a 30-minute panel with five alumni, followed by a 25-minute breakout session to give a smaller group of students an opportunity to follow-up by talking to one alumnus about their career.

The alumni for the session are Buddy Apple, Class of 2004; Allie Cleaver, Class of 2013; Vanessa Cook, Class of 2002; Anne Corless, Class of 2013; Christine Day, Class of 2006; Patrick Dogan, Class of 2008; Emilie Dayan Hill, Class of 2011; Bob Lynch, Class of 2008; John Martin, Class of 2009; and Josh Norris, Class of 2009.

Commemoration Ceremony, 2-3:30 p.m., Joseph C. Bancroft Conference Room (Croft Institute, Room 107) – This formal ceremony will officially recognize the institute’s 20th anniversary. The ceremony includes a welcome by Dinius and special guest speakers Gerald M. Abdalla, CEO and president of Croft LLC and chairman of the Joseph C. Bancroft Charitable and Educational Fund; Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter; Chancellor Emeritus Robert Khayat; and Provost Noel Wilkin. Two Croft alumni – Susan Hedglin, Class of 2009, and Patrick Woodyard, Class of 2010 – also will speak. Refreshments will be served on the porch following the ceremony.

Reception, 7-11 p.m., Powerhouse Community Arts Center – The reception will be an evening of food and live music for Croft alumni, students, faculty and staff.

Study Abroad Gives Croft Students Experience of a Lifetime

Semester, year overseas creates global citizens out of institute's students

Since its first graduating class in 2001, the Croft Institute for International Studies has graduated some 520 students. Photo by Nathan Latil/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

OXFORD, Miss. – Since its beginning in 1998, the Croft Institute for International Studies at the University of Mississippi has supplied students with the tools to become global citizens.

Chief among these tools are acquiring a high level of proficiency in a foreign language and studying abroad, for either a semester or a whole year, in a country whose language they have been studying.

Immersing oneself in the culture, history, language and day-to-day existence of a foreign land while studying abroad has proven to be a highlight of a student’s undergraduate career and aptly prepared Croft students for their future careers, either at home or elsewhere.

“Any study abroad experience gives the student a newfound appreciation for a different country and its culture,” said Oliver Dinius, Croft executive director and associate professor of history. “What is special about the semester or year abroad for Croft is that students will see firsthand how the language skill and the regional knowledge allow them to gain a much deeper understanding of their temporary home.

“It reinforces the hard work students have invested in the classroom during their first two years at Croft – and it adds that practical application that makes it all worthwhile. It provides the student with the confidence that she or he can actually do it: live and work in a different language and culture.”

As the institute celebrates its 20th anniversary this fall, it has sent hundreds of students to countries around the globe for their study abroad adventure. During the 2017-18 academic year, 43 Croft students studied abroad for either a semester or year.

Those students return to campus changed: more independent, more adept at tackling global challenges and more skilled at charting a career path in the world.

Dinius studied abroad twice: first as an exchange student from Germany at the University of Oregon and at Harvard University, where he earned his doctorate, and later when conducting 18 months of field research in Brazil.

Those diverse exploits helped him master foreign languages, be comfortable in different cultural environments and develop key skills to be a resident of the world.

Here are what a few current Croft students remember about their study abroad experience and how that time affected their lives.

Caroline Bass, senior

An international studies and Spanish major from Murfreesboro, Tennessee, Bass spent spring 2018 studying in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, at the Instituto Filosofico Pedro Francisco Bonó.

Senior international studies and Spanish major Caroline Bass spent the spring of 2018 studying in the Dominican Republic as part of her Croft Institute studies. Submitted photo

While there, she took a variety of literature and history classes for her major – with all of the classes in Spanish. In the streets of Santo Domingo and around the Caribbean country, Bass also said she heard very little English, so the experience greatly improved her language skills.

More learning came from outside of the classroom as Bass said the semester in the Dominican Republic made her “a more open-minded and curious student” that will affect how she studies and learns at UM.

“Living and studying in another country provides insight and perspective that you cannot attain in Oxford,” she said. “It showed me that there are countless things in the world that are more important than my life and ideas. It is a humbling experience that all students can benefit from and has given me a passion for the world, but has also given me a new understanding and love for Mississippi.”

“My study abroad experience was very meaningful and forced me out of my comfort zone. I met a lot of wonderful people and experienced new things that I never would have if I stayed in Oxford.”

Lauren Burns, senior

How much does Burns enjoy studying abroad? Enough that the Gulfport native has made three separate study abroad trips.

The international studies and Arabic major first studied at the Modern Arabic Language International Center in Amman, Jordan, in summer 2016 and then returned the following summer. This spring, she returned to Amman for an internship with CET Academic Programs, a study abroad organization.

Croft Institute senior Lauren Burns has journeyed to Jordan three times for study abroad. Her trips have allowed her to immerse herself in Jordanian culture, including trips to places such as Jerash. Submitted photo

At the center, Burns studied Modern Standard Arabic along with a Jordanian dialect of the language. This spring, she again studied Modern Standard Arabic and dialect for a semester in addition to taking a course on the refugee crisis in Jordan and interning twice a week with Partners-Jordan, a democratic and civil society organization.

“Besides the obvious benefit of improving my foreign language skills, I really got to immerse myself in Jordanian culture,” Burns said. “By living and studying there for a total of eight months over the past three years, I truly came to understand the phrase ‘you had to be there.’

“I’d read tons of articles and books for class about the refugee crises in the Middle East, but seeing the conflicts and their effects firsthand and befriending Syrian, Palestinian and Iraqi refugees really put things into perspective.”

Tyler Caple, senior

Caple, an international studies and Chinese major minoring in environmental studies, also has made three study abroad trips – all to China.

Senior Tyler Caple, an international studies and Chinese major minoring in environmental studies, has made three study abroad trips to China while a student at the Croft Institute. Submitted photo

The Huntsville, Alabama, native first studied abroad in Shanghai for an intensive language program in summer 2016. The following summer, she went to Changchun on a Critical Language Scholarship and took intensive Chinese classes again.

This past summer, she interned with a social enterprise called Women in Leadership League in Shanghai, thanks to a substantial grant from the Freeman Foundation in Stowe, Vermont.

With each trip, she was prepared because of her Croft studies.

“The Croft program does an amazing job of preparing students for study abroad,” she said. “Even before my first summer in China, I possessed a strong background knowledge of Chinese history and culture that helped me navigate potentially awkward conversations. Croft professors also encourage students to be constant learners, which inspired me to seek out opportunities to learn about my host country while abroad.”

As a three-time study abroad student, Caple has some simple advice for students – Croft or not – considering going abroad to study: Go for it.

“Even if you think it might not relate to your studies, go ahead and seek out information because you never know what kind of programs or interdisciplinary fields are out there,” she said.

Madeline Cook, sophomore

“An amazing adventure” is how Cook, an international studies major minoring in sociology, describes her study abroad trip to Spain this June.

Cook, of Flowood, studied Spanish culture and history, and the Spanish language at Universidad de Alcalá in Alcalá de Henares, Spain, about 20 minutes outside Madrid.

Croft Institute sophomore Madeline Cook studied Spanish culture, history and language while at Universidad de Alcalá in Spain this summer. Submitted photo

The suburb was once a Roman settlement, then a prominent medieval town with a rich literary history. Now, it is “a bustling, working Spanish metropolis with a quaint old town and a lot of history,” she said.

“I learned an incredible amount in a city that really epitomized Spain as the intersection between ancient and modern,” said Cook, a 2017 Stamps Scholarship recipient.

Well-prepared for speaking Spanish because of her Croft studies, Cook said the experience of living in Spain for a month made her more confident in her Spanish-speaking ability.

“I understand that language learning comes in waves – some days were difficult just saying something nuanced while others were brilliant, and that’s something every language learner must remember and accept,” she said. “I was very lucky to have many, many kind strangers start conversations with me and give their time to me.

“It’s the interactions like this on a daily level, seeing how things work up close, that really fascinates and teaches.”

Zac Herring, senior

Zac Herring, a senior at the Croft Institute majoring in international studies, German and economics, visited the Berlin Wall during his studies this year at the University of Cologne in Germany. Submitted photo

Herring had heard that the study abroad experience is often called a unique semester in the life of a college student. After studying three months this spring at the University of Cologne in Cologne, Germany, Herring understands why.

“I had a wonderful and exciting time,” said Herring, from Olive Branch.

The international studies, German and economics major studied German and participated in the Global Study Program, where he studied several different topics, most notably European Union economic law, EU development policy and the effect of globalization on European political discourse.

While his time abroad this spring helped with his language skills, he really discovered how to solve problems and address challenges he hadn’t faced in the U.S.

“You get to spend a great deal of time with people who are very different than you, and it really gives you a sense for how vast the world actually can be,” he said. “I think I have a much better understanding of what life is like in an entirely different political climate, with a radically different political history.”

Herring also offers some advice: “Make sure to find out as much as you can about what you need to do” before heading abroad, especially if you are responsible for your housing.

David Pfaehler, junior

A native of Independence, Kentucky, Pfaehler did not have the typical study abroad experience.

Thanks to a substantial grant from the Freeman Foundation in Stowe, Vermont, Pfaehler spent June and July of this year not studying at a university, but at the Vietnam National Children’s Hospital in Hanoi.

A recipient of a Freeman Foundation grant, David Pfaehler visits a mountain in the Ninh Binh Province, about an hour south of Hanoi, while interning this summer at the Vietnam National Children’s Hospital as part of his Croft Institute study abroad experience. Submitted photo

“I observed surgery and studied congenital anomalies in three different departments: plastic and craniofacial surgery, cardiovascular surgery and orthopedic surgery,” said Pfaehler, who is majoring in international studies and French along with minors in Spanish and chemistry.

Pfaehler spent about 45 hours a week shadowing and assisting doctors at the hospital.

“I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Vietnam and I believe that the Croft Institute prepared me for this experience by opening my mind to trying different things, whether it be learning new languages, talking to complete strangers or exploring the lesser-known parts of the world,” he said.

The trip was a motivating and humbling experience, one that reminded him that “there are still so many differences to be made in this world to make life easier and happier for all people.”

“My internship in Vietnam expanded my knowledge and love for medicine, allowing me to make a difference in the lives of young children born into very disadvantaged situations,” he said.

Emily Wang, junior

Wang, a native of Randolph, New Jersey, has enjoyed her study abroad experiences so much that she is still overseas, studying at Al Akhawayn University in Ifrane, Morocco, this semester.

Emily Wang, a junior in the Croft Institute, visits the ancient city of Petra while completing an intensive language institute program in Amman, Jordan, this summer. Submitted photo

Her latest studies are part of a whirlwind study abroad journey that started in Meknes, Morocco, at the Arab American Language Institute studying intensive Arabic in summer 2017.

After a year at UM, this summer she completed an intensive language institute program with the U.S. Department of State Critical Language Scholarship Program in Amman, Jordan. She also briefly studied Moroccan Arabic dialect in Rabat, Morocco, before starting her fall at Al Akhawayn University.

“The Croft Institute has afforded me incomparable opportunities to accumulate exposure, appreciation and understanding in unfamiliar cultural contexts,” said Wang, an international studies, Chinese and Arabic major. She also is pre-medicine, minoring in chemistry.

“Study abroad creates student ambassadors who will mature into world leaders that comprehend various cultural sensitivities and offer bridges over potential miscommunication.”

Her pre-medical studies are following an unconventional path, she said, but that’s intentional, as cultural understanding and study abroad help individuals develop greater empathy.

“Through close collaborations with the UM’s intensive Chinese and Arabic programs, Croft has been able to offer me an extraordinary program to holistically study the world,” she said.

For the last 20 years, Croft students have had opportunities to experience a foreign culture during their semester or year abroad. With the institute’s 21st academic year underway, another cohort of Croft students will be heading abroad, and while they may go to the same countries and programs as in years past, the individual experience always will be unique.

Blair McElroy Named Senior International Officer at UM

Ole Miss alumna brings global perspective, experiences to role

Blair McElroy, UM senior international officer, signs a memorandum of agreement with the National University of Civil Engineering in Vietnam for student and faculty exchanges and research collaborations in May. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

OXFORD, Miss. – During the 2017-18 academic year at the University of Mississippi, Blair McElroy watched over 877 international students as interim senior international officer.

In that position, she served as an advocate for those students, ensuring their education at UM went as smoothly as possible, while also championing international education on campus by organizing international collaboration agreements, assisting faculty in their teaching-abroad opportunities and creating new partnerships with international universities.

She even served as principal of the North Mississippi Japanese Supplementary School, a UM school where Japanese families and students settled in the area can maintain their education and culture.

This academic year, McElroy will continue her work in international education – while maintaining her concurrent role as director of the Study Abroad Office – but no longer with the interim tag. McElroy, a 2002 graduate of UM’s Croft Institute for International Studies and the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College, has been named senior international officer at UM after holding the interim title for about a year.

“I see the Office of Global Engagement as a resource for the university in expanding its already prominent global footprint,” McElroy said. “OGE’s faculty and staff are incredible resources for opportunities such as faculty exchange, student exchange, joint research projects, supporting international students on campus and leading study abroad programs.

“Our forthcoming new website will host opportunities for global engagement for constituents on campus and in the community.”

McElroy joined the Ole Miss staff in November 2006 as a study abroad adviser after graduating from the UM School of Law. She was named director of the Study Abroad Office in July 2015.

Blair McElroy

“Blair brings a wealth of experience and expertise to the position, which has enabled her to be a stabilizing force in the Office of Global Engagement,” Provost Noel Wilkin said. “For many years, she has demonstrated her ability to navigate the issues and advance the initiatives within the office.

“This background and experience prepared her well to work with faculty, staff and students to help us pursue a global Mississippi.”

A native of Jackson, Tennessee, McElroy majored in international studies, minoring in Chinese and French, at UM. She also studied abroad in Beijing for a semester, and at Cambridge University in the United Kingdom.

She also worked in the Study Abroad Office as an undergraduate student worker and while in law school.

Don Dyer, co-director of UM’s Chinese Language Flagship Program and new Arabic Language Flagship Program, has known McElroy for about 15 years and worked with her in several capacities.

“I have great admiration for her as an administrator on this campus,” said Dyer, who also serves as associate dean for faculty and academic affairs in the College of Liberal Arts and distinguished professor of Russian and linguistics. “She is someone who sets her mind to a task and stays with it to its completion.”

In an effort to strengthen UM’s international bonds, McElroy spent two weeks this spring at an International Education Administrators seminar in South Korea. The trip was made possible through a Fulbright award.

While there, McElroy visited 12 South Korean universities on a whirlwind tour, learning about South Korean history and culture. Her visit also boosted the university’s program offerings in Korea by structuring strategic partnerships in academic areas and deepening institutional connections to Korea through meetings with faculty, administrators and government officials.

“It was an amazing experience,” she said. “Not only did I learn more about the Korean culture, history and people, but also how to better support Korean students on our campus. I can also happily and knowledgeably encourage study abroad in Korea.

“I would love to host information sessions focusing on study in Korea throughout the academic year and reach out to our Korean students. Having met many of their advisers during our visits, the connections will hopefully help them feel more at home here at UM.”

As director of the Study Abroad Office, McElroy oversees the recruitment of outgoing and incoming study abroad and exchange students – a task that includes being a risk and crisis manager, which can lead to some restless nights.

UM sent 685 students overseas in the 2017-18 academic year through its study abroad programs, a 22 percent increase from the previous year.

With so many students overseas – either for a year, a semester or a summer – crises arise, whether it is students eating bad street food or natural disasters or political unrest. Through it all, the Study Abroad Office is there for students.

Difficulties aside, the experience of studying overseas is invaluable, McElroy said.

“The things you learn about another country, another culture and yourself still resonate even 20 years later,” she said. “I still remember the uncertainty and excitement of traveling to another country for an extended period of time, and I want to make the transition to another country smooth, enjoyable and educational for our students.

“Having been an international student myself in China and the United Kingdom, I remember how it feels to know no one and learn to be resourceful and independent. But I also remember the kindness of people abroad who were hospitable and helpful, and I hope that we are fostering that kind of environment here on our campus for our international students.”

So McElroy’s advice when it comes to studying overseas? Do it.

The real world following graduation might not afford many opportunities for travel, and UM offers several programs for study abroad, she said. Plus, scholarships and financial aid apply, so students can often find a program that fits their budget and academic needs.

And if students cannot go abroad, opportunities are plentiful on campus to engage with international students through the Office of Global Engagement or by participating in UM’s International Education Week activities in early November.

“Regardless of how a student interacts with people from other cultures, the opportunity to do so creates global citizens, people who understand that there exists a world community and know their place within it,” McElroy said.

“People who use the tools they have learned by ‘walking in other people’s shoes’ to become more empathetic, learn intercultural communication skills, learn what they value and can contribute positively to a local, national and global community, and the effects of their experience resonate forever.”

Croft Institute Marks Two Decades of Preparing State for the World

More than 500 graduates have launched successful global careers

A degree from the Croft Institute for International Studies serves as a passport into the world economy. Here, the 2018 class celebrates its graduation. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

OXFORD, Miss. – Since its first class graduated in 2001, the Croft Institute for International Studies at the University of Mississippi has sent hundreds of students into the world.

A Croft Institute degree serves as a passport, a stamp of approval recognizable in the global marketplace of a student who is prepared for a career on the worldwide stage.

The first cohort entered Croft in 1998, and as of May, 520 UM students have graduated from the institute, going on to work in global fields with international expertise, working alongside people from various backgrounds.

Just as remarkable is what the institute has done at home – both on the Ole Miss campus and in the state of Mississippi. It has been at the forefront of internationalizing the university and the state. The institute, which celebrates its 20th anniversary this fall, is both raising the profile of the state through outreach programs and helping UM attract new initiatives.

“A major reason for the creation of the Croft Institute was to help bring an international outlook to the state of Mississippi,” said Oliver Dinius, Croft executive director and associate professor of history. “Part of that agenda was to offer outreach programs, especially for teachers at high schools, which would strengthen their ability to teach on international topics and to recruit talented students from the state of Mississippi for the Croft Institute, where they could receive the education to become global leaders.”

Besides offering outreach programs for Mississippi’s kindergarten through 12th-grade teachers (such as its National Consortium for Teaching about Asia-funded workshops), Croft has stimulated the internationalization of the state and university through study abroad for Ole Miss students, partnerships with the Department of Modern Languages and more.

Each of these initiatives tells a story of how Croft has moved beyond the walls of its beautifully restored Y Building home on campus and helped usher the university and Mississippi onto the global scene.

Douglass Sullivan-González, dean of the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College, served on the organizing team for the Croft Institute. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

When UM and the Joseph C. Bancroft Charitable and Educational Fund announced in September 1997 the $60 million donation from the fund that would create the institute, decisions were already being made on the focus of the international studies major offered at Croft.

The interdisciplinary major offered under the College of Liberal Arts would focus on politics, economics and culture in one of three regional concentrations – East Asia, Europe and Latin America – along with language courses every semester related to the regional concentration.

Students also were expected to study abroad – either for a semester or a whole year – in a country whose language they had been studying.

“The three regions were selected because of their dominance in Mississippi’s international trade,” said Michael Metcalf, who served as Croft’s executive director from 1998 to 2007. “The university had relative strength in European and Latin American studies, so the first new Croft faculty hires were made in 1998 and 1999 to initiate instruction in Chinese language and to start to build strength in East Asian history, society and religion.

“The importance of studying these three regions was for students who might work there with Mississippi firms to learn about their social, political and cultural backgrounds and thus be more effective.”

Choosing Latin America as one of the three initial regional concentrations was an opportunity to redefine what the South is and reshape it as a “global South,” said Douglass Sullivan-González, dean of the UM Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College.

In 1998, Sullivan-González was an assistant professor of history selected to teach in Croft and serve on the institute’s organizing team. Sullivan-González first became interested in Latin American studies as a freshman at Samford University during a trip to rural northern Mexico working on a water project.

He was part of a group of history professors who pushed for the inclusion of Latin America as a regional concentration.

“That conviction was: We know there is a growing immigration wave of people who are speaking Spanish who are coming from Mexico and Central America, and it is going to affect the culture,” he said. “It did. We’ve seen the change.”

During that first academic year of Croft, in 1998-99, Sullivan-González also taught a course that included a trip to Queretaro, Mexico – one of the early study abroad opportunities through Croft.

Since its first graduating class in 2001, 520 students have graduated from the Croft Institute for International Studies. Photo by Nathan Latil/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

“(Students) have to see how the questions that haunt us here come alive there,” he said. “You see how the questions come alive in Latin America and all of a sudden, you realize: They’re struggling with the same things we are, but it’s a very different path and a very different history, and it enriches the conversation today to look at which groups have made better strides, which groups have made weaker strides, and compare and contrast that.”

Other early study abroad opportunities included students visiting Europe and East Asia.

The benefits of studying abroad are numerous, said Kees Gispen, who served as executive director of Croft from 2007 to 2016. Gispen has taught in Croft since its inception.

“When students study (abroad), they become aware,” he said. “And when they live in it, when they study abroad, they see how it functions. They come back and more often than not, it helps them come up with new ideas of how to improve our own situation.

“Different cultures have different ways of doing things.”

While Croft students were heading abroad, the institute was quickly making a difference within Mississippi; for example, through early outreach programs such as the National Consortium for Teaching about Asia, which looks to increase teaching and learning about East Asia in elementary and secondary schools.

Peter Frost, who served as Croft’s interim director in 1997 and ’98, had been involved with the consortium’s director before coming to UM. Once at Ole Miss, Frost had offered NCTA workshops to Mississippi teachers even before Croft was started.

Understanding Asia is a crucial part of understanding the world, both for cultural understanding and politics, Frost said.

“NCTA aims to help K-12 teachers enrich their (often required) world history courses, develop the imagination and cultural understanding of younger students, and helps give older students and adults a better grasp of the many issues surrounding our relations with Asia,” he said. “Teachers enjoyed getting educational materials and references, educational credits, learning more and developing lesson plans with other teachers.”

Besides summer workshops and online continuing education units and professional development opportunities in East Asia, through courses such as “Sake, Sushi and Soft Power” and “Korea in the Modern World,” the Croft Institute during its first two decades also has offered outreach programs to Mississippi teachers in Latin American and European studies.

Oliver Dinius is executive director of the Croft Institute and an associate professor of history. Photo by Nathan Latil/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

With students going into the world, and Mississippi teachers coming to UM to learn more about the world, strengthening the opportunity for the study of foreign languages became an early mission of Croft, too, Dinius said.

“The institute made high levels of oral proficiency in at least one foreign language a requirement for the international studies major, and it supplemented the resources available in the Department of Modern Languages with three faculty positions: in Chinese, Spanish and Japanese,” he said. “The focus remained on the so-called critical languages, and Dr. Metcalf was instrumental in securing a grant to bring a Chinese Language Flagship Program to the university.”

Started in 2002, The Language Flagship programs are a federal initiative to graduate students who have a superior fluency level in foreign languages deemed critical to U.S. interests.

Work on attracting a Flagship program to Ole Miss began in 2000, Metcalf said, with the Croft Institute and Department of Modern Languages working in tandem to land a program in Chinese. UM received its Chinese Language Flagship Program in 2003.

The program is a tremendous resource for students who wish to become highly proficient in Chinese and pursue careers in such fields as business, government and journalism in which they will use Chinese to give themselves and their employers a professional advantage, Metcalf said.

Croft and the modern languages department also worked together to attract a second Language Flagship program, in Arabic, which was awarded in August. The department’s work on building a prestigious program in Arabic also enabled the Croft Institute to add the Middle East as a fourth geographical concentration, adding two Middle East faculty positions, when Gispen served as executive director.

“This is an area where we are constantly involved,” he said. “This is an area we can’t afford to ignore.”

Even as Croft has internationalized the Ole Miss campus and Mississippi, the institute’s purpose has remained the same: to give students the best possible preparation to launch successful global careers.

“I’ve always thought the strongest part of the Croft Institute was its really good students … and a good curriculum, a good plan,” Gispen said. “The core strength is these high-achieving students whom we can attract from all over the country who can make a real contribution.”

UM Student Broadens Horizon with Year in Japan

Gwenafaye McCormick wraps up studying abroad as Bridging Scholar

UM student Gwenafaye McCormick spent the 2017-18 academic year studying at Waseda University, a private, independent research university in central Tokyo. Submitted photo

OXFORD, Miss. – For the past year, University of Mississippi student Gwenafaye McCormick started her school day about 6,600 miles and 14 time zones from Oxford – in Japan.

McCormick, a rising senior international studies major from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, spent the 2017-18 school year studying at Waseda University, a private, independent research university in central Tokyo.

The distance and time from home meant that while McCormick was headed to Friday morning classes, Ole Miss students were gearing up for a Thursday evening.

“I grew up interested in Japan and Japanese culture, so of course I had some idea of what to expect, but getting to see places in real life that I had only ever seen in photos before was almost breathtaking, even for sort of silly things, like lines of vending machines lighting up a neighborhood street at night,” she said.

“Getting to experience everyday life in Japan has been the best part, in my opinion. I’ve made great friends at my university from Japan and from all over the world, and have had so many wonderful experiences with them.”

The “dream-come-true” experience has ended as McCormick’s Japanese school year came to a close. That means McCormick, the inaugural recipient of the Ira Wolf Scholarship from the U.S.-Japan Bridging Foundation, will be home for two weeks of “summer vacation” before UM classes start Aug. 20.

McCormick brought back experiences and memories from her Japanese sojourn that stretch beyond the classroom and her studies, such as eating “real sushi” for the first time on her 20th birthday surrounded by new friends, singing karaoke for the first time and playing games such as Janken, the Japanese version of rock-paper-scissors.

A member of both the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College and Croft Institute for International Studies, she even met U.S. Ambassador to Japan William Hagerty IV at the ambassador’s residence, where McCormick represented the U.S.-Japan Bridging Foundation at a reception.

McCormick’s year of Japanese studies came through the foundation, a nonprofit organization created in 1998 at the recommendation of the Japan-US Friendship Commission to strengthen the two countries’ relationship.

Her Ira Wolf Scholarship is named after a U.S. trade representative and, most recently, an employee of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America trade group in Tokyo. Wolf died in January 2016 after spending half his adult life in Japan.

Gwenafaye McCormick’s studies in Japan included several cultural opportunities, such as eating ‘real sushi’ for the first time and visiting Japanese temples and gardens. Submitted photo

“Gwenafaye has a global perspective, similar to Mr. Wolf,” said Jean M. Falvey, deputy director of the U.S.-Japan Bridging Foundation. “Gwenafaye has carried on Mr. Wolf’s legacy with poise, intelligence and humility. She was chosen to represent the Bridging Scholars at a reception that U.S. Ambassador William Hagerty IV hosted at his residence in Tokyo, in honor of the Bridging Foundation’s 20th anniversary.

“Her articulate, grateful remarks were a huge hit among the major donor and government officials in attendance, and exemplified the value of study abroad to building the U.S.’s pipeline of next-generation workforce and global leaders.”

Thankful for the foundation’s encouragement and support, McCormick said it has been “incredibly rewarding to know that established members of the field I am entering see me as an active member as well and want to help me succeed.”

McCormick’s studies at Waseda University were focused on Japanese culture and history. Her courseload in Japan included classes such as one on paternalism and Japanese society, which focused on the differences between and complexities within Western and Japanese business cultures.

“It’s been really exciting to learn about Japanese culture and history from a Japanese perspective, especially since I have some background knowledge on events, given previous research and study I did at Ole Miss,” McCormick said. “In some ways, it’s very similar to what I’ve learned through my international studies classes (at UM) since the department I’m in is international studies/relations-oriented, teaches most of their courses in English and is a magnet for international students coming to Japan.

“But given that most of my teachers have been Japanese, I’ve had the chance to hear a real-life and modern-day Japanese perspective on many issues, which has been such a great opportunity.”

McCormick is the daughter of Paige McCormick, an associate professor of English literature at the Stillman College, and Mark McCormick, Stillman’s vice president of academic affairs. While she briefly visited Switzerland, Paris and London in high school, her love for Japan and Japanese culture arose through watching and reading Japanese cartoons, respectively called anime (animation) and manga (comics).

“I was completely enthralled by their variety of artistic styles and the difference in set storylines, humor and focuses,” she said. “I was always interested in the editor’s notes in the back of my manga volumes, where untranslatable jokes were explained, given that they relied on some knowledge of the kanji (Chinese characters) used to write characters’ names, or how two words sounded similar in Japanese but were written/pronounced differently. I wanted so badly to be able to be in on the joke.

“So I knew I had always wanted to learn Japanese, but it wasn’t until high school when a Japanese-American friend of mine encouraged me after I told her about my interest that I decided to really go for it. I’ve always loved learning languages, and Japanese was no different. I fell completely in love with it and knew I wanted to become fluent, so I pursued it wholeheartedly at Ole Miss.”

McCormick’s extended time living, traveling and studying in Japan provides a much deeper understanding of her target culture than the more typical semester stay, said Noell Wilson, chair of the university’s Arch Dalrymple III Department of History and Croft associate professor of history and international studies. Wilson also serves as McCormick’s senior thesis adviser.

“This more complex engagement with all things Japanese – from pop culture to history to food – will make her scholarly analysis of Japan on return to Oxford both more authoritative and more authentic,” said Wilson, whose background is in East Asian studies.

Following a brief vacation, McCormick will turn to her senior year at UM. Her tentative plans following graduation include entering the Japan Exchange and Teaching Program, a competitive employment opportunity that allows young professionals to live and work in Japan, whether in rural villages or brightly lit metropolises.

She would like a locale a little more rural than the center of Tokyo but is interested in the challenge of teaching her native language in her chosen, learned language, as well as having more of an immersive Japanese language experience.

Still, with a year left at Ole Miss, McCormick said nothing is set.

“I am keeping my mind open to all possibilities,” she said. “I’ve learned that a lot can happen in just one year.”

$60 Million Gift Launched Croft Institute onto Global Stage

Donation from Joseph C. Bancroft Charitable and Educational Fund endowed institute 20 years ago

Before the Croft Institute for International Studies called the ‘Y’ Building, or the old chapel, home, the building, constructed in 1853, underwent about a $3.5 million renovation funded by the Joseph C. Bancroft Charitable and Educational Fund. In June 1998, the Croft board of directors toured the ongoing renovations with Chancellor Robert Khayat (third from left), Provost Carolyn Staton (right) and others. Submitted photo

OXFORD, Miss. – The Croft Institute for International Studies celebrates its 20th anniversary this year, but before that first cohort entered in August 1998, the institute’s story began with a man walking into an office.

The man was Gerald M. Abdalla, CEO and president of Croft LLC and chairman of the Joseph C. Bancroft Charitable and Educational Fund. The office, located in the Lyceum at the University of Mississippi, was occupied by then-Chancellor Robert Khayat.

A native of McComb, Abdalla had graduated from the UM School of Law in 1973 (where Khayat was a professor of his), earned a master’s in taxation from New York University and joined Croft Metals as corporate counsel after five years in private practice. He had been promoted to lead the McComb-based company, founded by Joseph C. Bancroft, in 1996.

Bancroft died in March 1996, but his will set up the fund, with an eye toward funding educational pursuits. And Abdalla had an idea for using some of the money, so he called his former professor, set up a meeting and soon walked into Khayat’s office in September 1996.

“He came in and we had a little conversation preceding ‘the conversation,’ and I said, ‘Well, Jerry, what can I do for you?'” Khayat recalled.

I want to give Ole Miss some money, Khayat remembered Abdalla saying.

Good, because we need it, Khayat replied.

I want to give $60 million.

What did you say? Khayat asked.

$60 million.

“It got very quiet for a moment because I’d never heard of that before – or since,” Khayat said. “I said, ‘What would you like us to do with that money?’ He said, ‘What do you want to do with it?'”

Abdalla said when he first met with Khayat, he mentioned establishing an institute incorporating majors he had studied, such as accounting, law and taxation. After he met more with Khayat, Associate Provost Carolyn Ellis Staton and other university officials, the decision was made to use the $60 million for an international studies program.

“That was foreign to me, but as far as myself and the other members of the board, we figured if that’s what the university wanted, and they were going to be there to be involved in it, we’d go ahead and do that one,” Abdalla said. “That’s what we did.”

About a year later, on Sept. 18, 1997, after negotiations and drawing up contracts, the $60 million gift – largest in the university’s history – was publicly announced, with Khayat stating the gift would create a premier international studies institute, the Croft Institute for International Studies.

“The University of Mississippi and the state of Mississippi will be forever changed by the work of the Croft Institute,” Khayat said during a press conference announcing the gift.

Twenty years later, no one can argue with the foresight of that statement. Since the institute’s inception in 1998, the program has sent its graduates out into the world, placing both UM and its graduates on the global stage.

“We have just completed a survey of our alumni, and it shows that a Croft degree opens doors to a broad range of exciting jobs all over the world,” said Oliver Dinius, Croft executive director and an associate professor of history. “This confirms that the original vision for the Croft Institute was right on target, and it is rewarding to hear directly from graduates of Croft how well its educational model prepared them for their careers, often in fields that one may not associate with international studies.

“The generous support of the Bancroft Fund and the dedicated work of Croft faculty and staff over two decades have created something unique. Croft offers an education that is at the same time specialized – command of a foreign language and knowledge about world affairs – and general by emphasizing strong writing and research skills. Prospective employers value that, and Croft truly has become a brand.”

Following this year’s Commencement, the institute has more than 500 graduates. Every year, between 40 and 50 students are expected to graduate from the institute with a bachelor’s in international studies, developing a growing network of Croft alumni that support one other and spread the reputation of the institute.

Though it was Abdalla who walked into Khayat’s office that day, plans for an international studies program had been floated earlier, by people such as Robert J. Haws, former chair of the UM Department of History, who joined the university in 1969; and Staton, who joined the university in 1977 and served as a professor and interim dean in the School of Law, associate provost and provost before her retirement in 2009. Staton died in May 2017.

When campus members begin hearing of the plans for the institute and the generous gift from the Joseph C. Bancroft Charitable and Educational Fund that would make it possible, a palpable energy began spreading on campus.

“There was tremendous excitement,” said Kees Gispen, who served as executive director of Croft from 2007 to 2016 and who has taught in Croft since its inception. “This was a dedicated program in international studies, which is something the university sorely lacked.

The announcement of the $60 million gift from the Joseph C. Bancroft Charitable and Educational Fund to the university to endow the Croft Institute for International Studies made headlines around the state and nation. Submitted photo

“It has historically been a pretty inward-looking school and concerned with Mississippi, and we’re always measuring ourselves in Mississippi, and the whole idea of looking beyond the boundaries of the state and, more than that, beyond the borders of the country was very innovative and exciting and electrifying.”

The students entering Croft in 1998 were educated in the George Street House, as the “Y” Building or the old chapel (built in 1853), where Croft calls home, underwent about a $3.5 million renovation, a project also funded by the Joseph C. Bancroft Charitable and Educational Fund.

Those first students entered Croft in a changing world, one shaped by globalization spreading via new trade agreements, the internet, increasing free trade, imaginative technologies and more. Croft was designed to prepare students for this new world.

Douglass Sullivan-González, dean of the UM Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College, was in 1998 an Ole Miss history professor who was selected to teach in Croft. He also was part of the Croft organizing team.

The Croft planners knew the importance to the institute and international studies of students learning a foreign language.

“Any diplomat will tell you that once you can understand and express yourself in the native language, you have an inside; you’re not on the outside always,” Sullivan-González said. “We envision our students obtaining positions at the highest levels in the nation as an outgrowth of this program, which would include the diplomatic corps. …

“Language carries our students farther. I would say our experiences have borne this out, especially beyond our wildest expectations. We have one of the best teaching corps in the nation here, and our students are catching prize possessions of jobs, given their language proficiencies.”

Another key decision early on required Croft students to spend at least a semester abroad in a country that speaks their chosen language, said Peter Frost, who was interim Croft director during its planning year and taught in the program for 15 years.

“I do not remember any debate over this wise decision,” he said. “Here Ole Miss faculty instantly understood what living abroad in a qualified program could do for a student’s maturity, let alone language fluency.”

Class sizes also were purposely kept small, Frost said, as “a small, carefully guided discussion group is much better at training students to think, participate and retain information than a faculty member droning on in a large, often sleepy, lecture hall.”

Also, students are required to write an honors thesis, Frost said. That senior honors thesis “is an amazing, tough and super-beneficial part of Croft that develops a close bond between the director and the student,” he said.

Jeremy Mills was an early Croft student, graduating from the institute in 2002. He works as the military program manager for the Winchester Division of Olin Corp. in Oxford.

Between the foreign language component, studying abroad and more, Mills’ Croft education distinguished him from his peers by making him adaptable, he said.

“The diversity of experiences I had and people I met while a student at the Croft translates today into me being able to adapt to pretty much any situation with relative ease,” he said. “Many people get uncomfortable and nervous with new places and people; for me, I crave those experiences.

“You never really get rid of the nervous part, but as someone told me, ‘It isn’t about getting rid of the butterflies; it is about making them fly in formation.'”

Blair McElroy also graduated from Croft in 2002 as part of the first cohort who started in 1998. As a high school student, she loved language and math and knew she wanted to study abroad, hence her decision to study at Croft.

She studied in China as part of her Croft education, and that exposure of studying and living in a different country – along with her other Croft experiences – has influenced her career.

McElroy is director of UM’s Study Abroad program and senior international officer.

“Majoring in international studies was incredible preparation for working in the field of international education,” she said. “The ability to communicate in another language, the intercultural communication skills gained through study at UM and abroad, and the knowledge imparted by the Croft program has given me the tools to facilitate programs in many disciplines, encourage partnerships around the world, and connect with faculty and staff on campus.”

Nearing its 20th anniversary, the Croft Institute has helped the university, the state of Mississippi and its people become players on the international stage. Powering that journey has been the Joseph C. Bancroft Charitable and Educational Fund, including a new $5 million commitment to the institute in 2016.

“Mississippi is part of the global economy just as much as any other state in the United States,” Abdalla said. “Large multinationals – such as Nissan and Toyota – and many smaller multinational companies operate in the state, and their management is looking for employees who have an understanding of the global connections in today’s economy.

“Even if they do not require command of a foreign language skill, employers like the fact that our students have experienced a different culture and know how to adapt to different practices at the workplace and beyond.

“If the United States wants to remain a world economic leader, it needs people who are truly international. … Every time a U.S. company wants to go global or expand its worldwide reach, it will be looking for employees willing to relocate to a foreign country. Students trained at Croft are ready to do that.”

Beyond moving the boundaries of the university internationally, the Croft Institute also has made UM a global destination for students.

“Having it in Mississippi is another wonderful thing … because it brings students from all over the world,” Gispen said. “People from other states have these perceptions of our state, and the more you can mix that up and bring people here and let them see with their own eyes, the more you gradually whittle down the stereotype of Mississippi.

“We’ve worked on that, and I think all of us continue to work on that. That’s a very important endeavor.”

Croft students are bright, motivated, inspired and grasp opportunity, Khayat said, and no matter where they go, they move forward as ambassadors of the university and the state, opening up a world of possibility.

“It’s become one of the stellar programs in America,” Khayat said. “Really a leading, cutting-edge international studies program.

“Croft … gets you focused on the larger world and gives you a chance to be a part of it.”