Miller Institute increases global awareness with cultural and travel opportunities

Students dancing at the Panamanian Spring celebration

Brenau University’s Miller Institute for Global Education will send students to Panama and Costa Rica this summer as part of ongoing global educational pursuits led by the institute. 

The Miller Institute was founded in 2022 through a gift from longtime Brenau supporters Pete Miller, secretary of Brenau’s Board of Trustees, and wife Cathy. 

“At the Miller Institute, we are proud to put in motion a series of initiatives to ensure that our goals as a new department are met to become a more globally aware university, helping support the attainment of our strategic plan and Quality Enhancement Plan set forth to further develop cultural competency skills among our student population,” Rosi Ponce, executive director for the Miller Institute, said.

Julie Carbaugh, Ph.D., assistant professor of education, will take two undergraduates and one graduate student to the same rural elementary school in Loma Bonita that Brenau students visited last year. The trip, planned for mid-June, will give Brenau students an opportunity to practice their teaching skills and methods, improve cultural competency skills through an exchange of cultures, and share the benefits of higher education with the Panamanian students. 

Three undergraduate students, along with Claudia Wilburn, chair of the Department of Art and Design, will visit Panama on a separate trip later this summer as part of the IFARHU Mobility Arts Exchange Program. In the spring, 25 students and one chaperone from Universidad de Panama spent three weeks at Brenau to experience courses in visual arts, music, dance and theater, and cultural exchanges and activities. 

Ponce said the summer trip in the arts exchange program is significant as it completes the first cycle of the program for students, faculty and staff.

Another new initiative is a trip to Costa Rica this June. Jessi Shrout, Ph.D., department chair and assistant professor of biology, and Ponce will guide three undergraduate students to explore biodiversity in the country. It’s the first trip of its kind for Brenau students in Costa Rica.

This spring, the institute also supported students, faculty and staff on educational trips to Mexico and Israel, while hosting international students at Brenau’s historic Gainesville campus. 

Students engage in needle crafts as part of a therapeutic lesson
Students learn about therapeutic needlecraft at a hospital in Yucatan. (Photo: M. Irma Alvarado)

M. Irma Alvarado, Ph.D., OT/L, FAOTA, professor of occupational therapy, led three graduate students on a nine-day trip in March to Yucatan, Mexico, marking the post-pandemic resumption of the annual experience. 

Alvarado said students are immersed in how the locals live and gain another perspective on the factors that impact occupational therapy.

“We spend time in multiple locations, each with different populations, economic statuses and needs,” Alvarado said. “We visit health and educational facilities to see how services are provided, noting similarities and differences with our own communities. We also experience cultural and local living within urban, suburban and rural settings, from their downtown squares to the beaches and the wildlife.”

Three undergraduate students and Renee Just, Ph. D., business department chair and associate professor of leadership, visited Israel in March as part of a Sullivan Foundation scholarship opportunity focused on innovation, leadership, cultural development and peace-building. 

The Miller Institute also brought Panamanian educator Jay Jesus Molino, Ph. D., the dean of the faculty of biosciences and public health at the Universidad Especializada de las Américas, as one of the keynote speakers at the Innovation, Inquiry and Creativity Symposium in April. Students who participated in the Yucatan and Israel trips also presented their takeaway from the experiences at the symposium.

Additionally, two Panamanian cohorts are continuing their coursework at Brenau as part of a program with IFARHU, Panama’s financial aid agency.