“We wanted the students to have a great experience and to learn about new media and the United States,” says Spillman, who is in her 14th year of teaching at Ball State, following a professional journalism career at The Associated Press and WRTV Indianapolis. “However, I feel that I learned as much from them as they learned from us.”
Hosted by academic institutions across the United States, the Student Leader Institutes include an intensive academic component, an educational tour of other regions of the country, local community service activities, and a unique opportunity for participants to get to know their American peers. Twenty visiting students participated in Ball State’s program from June 24 through July 21, 2012.
The on-campus experience was supplemented by trips to Indianapolis where students visited the Indiana Statehouse, WISH-TV, and Conner Prairie. A separate trip to Kentucky allowed the students to tour the Kentucky Horse Park and Churchill Downs. The SUSI group also met Muncie Mayor Dennis Tyler and celebrated Independence Day at Muncie’s Minnetrista with a traditional American picnic that included Smith’s homemade ice cream.
“It’s amazing how Americans come together and unite,” said Malaysian student Nirosha Xavier when interviewed July 4 waiting for the fireworks on the lawn of Minnetrista near the White River.
“It’s so interesting to see it through their eyes,” says Smith, who joined the telecommunications faculty in 2008 after 25 years in the broadcast industry as a senior producer at CNN.com, CNN Sports, and The Weather Channel. “The things that they look at and think about, we so take for granted.”
The group continues to stay in touch with faculty and each other through Facebook, Skype, and Google+. “We hope that someday we might be able to arrange for a reunion of all participants,” Smith says.
Both Smith and Spillman say it has been gratifying to hear from past SUSI students who continue to make an impact. Angelita Bombarda, one of the 2011 SUSI participants, recently was selected as one of the Ten Outstanding Students of the Philippines. Bombarda wrote that she would not have received the honor were it not for her “life-changing SUSI experience."
Other SUSI students continue to travel the world, participating in prestigious programs in Singapore and the United Kingdom. “I am confident these student leaders will make important contributions to their individual countries in the years to come,” Spillman says.
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