Sept. 12, 2016Vol. 47, Issue 1

A Growing Global Perspective

In August, Chico State welcomed what is believed to be the largest group of new faculty in the University’s history. With 51 new members joining departments in all seven colleges, they also represent what is perhaps the largest cohort of international faculty in the University’s history. 

At least 10 individuals from around the world bring with them a diverse world-view, new perspectives, and educational depth to classrooms across campus. 

“I was so excited to go to the new faculty orientation and hear all these accents and how excited they are that there is an International Faculty Network,” said Chiara Ferrari, who is leading a joint effort of the faculty development and international education departments to support international faculty.

Ferrari’s goal is to create a place where international faculty can connect and their needs can be identified and addressed—whether it’s assisting with family members who are still abroad or finding a lawyer to help with citizenship. She hopes such a network can support retention of these talented individuals and foster community.

“We want to do whatever we can do to create that sense of belonging or just give answers that might create an environment where people are more likely to stay,” Ferrari said.

She speaks from experience, having come to Chico State 10 years ago from Italy and stumbling through the process on her own. In time, she has developed a network of peers both international and domestic, but she hopes to make the process even smoother for campus newcomers, connecting them early on to the community at large.

New faculty like the idea, even though many say they have found Chico State and the community to be nothing but supportive.

“Everyone is so friendly and welcoming—and you get the feeling they are genuine, too,” said Dhanu Thamarapani, a new faculty member in the Department of Economics who is originally from Sri Lanka. “A new city, a new job, new students—there’s a lot of learning for me right now. It’s great to have such support.”

A recent focus on diversity and inclusiveness has benefited international faculty seeking jobs across the United States, said Shrija Dirghangi, who joined the Department of Child Development. She recently completed her PhD in developmental psychology at Florida Atlantic University and was set to take a job at a community college in Salt Lake City, where her husband teaches at the University of Utah. But, then she interviewed here.

“The moment I came to Chico and met with my department head and everyone else, they were so fascinating,” said Dirghangi, whose husband is now interested in an opportunity here. “I really came for the people. I love this place. Every part of it has reaffirmed that sense that I had.”

Raised in Mumbai and having completed her undergraduate studies there, Dirghangi has found those she interacts with to be curious about her background.

She says people from other countries—both faculty and students—can be self-conscious about their appearance, accents, and lack of familiarity with US customs. So, she is eagerly embracing the opportunity to both learn and educate through the network, where she can talk about challenges unique to international faculty, like getting a driver’s license.

“Seeing a professor like me, I hope is reassuring for faculty and students to see,” she said. “If I can do it, they can do it.”

Shrija Dirghangi

Shrija Dirghangi

It’s been a challenge to understand the system—from benefits to retirement to legislation, said Luciana Braga, who joined the Department of Kinesiology. But everyone has been supportive.

“The exchange of cultures is fascinating,” she said. “To be around people who speak different languages and have seen different things is very cool.” 

With the Olympics taking place in Rio—Braga’s home city and where she taught K-12 physical education for 10 years—it’s been a major conversation starter and opportunity to share some of her past.

“The opportunities in the US amaze me and I am so grateful for all I’ve achieved in such a short time,” she said. “As a foreigner, I’ve never felt that I was treated different than anyone else. 

Today’s climate for international faculty is quite different than it was 15 years ago, said Dalen Chiang, chair of the Department of Business Information Systems. At that time, he was the only international faculty member in the department, compared to now, where he works with faculty from China, Korea, Iran, and Europe.

“Students were writing ‘China man go home’ on my teaching evaluations. What is that? You didn’t tell me how to teach better,” he said of his early years. “And what do you mean, ‘home’? I am home.”

He came to the United States with his family in 1963, seeking political asylum from Taiwan. He was shocked by the closed-mindedness of a few students but not deterred. 

Chiang continued to be an advocate for international faculty and encouraged other faculty members to work or study abroad. He himself taught in Italy and Spain through the University Studies Abroad Consortium, and advocates to all his students that they need an international experience.

Luciana Braga

Luciana Braga

An international faculty network can promote a global presence at Chico State, Ferrari said. Perhaps it can grow to include forums, presentations, and brown-bag lunches. She’d also like to create a website that can be searched by spoken language, country of origin, area of the world, or research area.

The first professor in her family, Thamarapani is eager to collaborate with other faculty members. At the fall meet and greet, she spoke with an engineering professor from Latin America, and they quickly decided to write a grant together.

“I was surprised to learn how similar we are, even though we come from very different backgrounds,” she said. “We all have our own pursuits but we are headed in the same destination.”

As an undergraduate, she once questioned if study abroad would be worth the delay in her graduation time. Before she embarked on a year in Japan, she remembers a professor telling her, ‘Get the exposure, child. You won’t regret it.’”

She’s glad he knew what he was talking about.

More: New faculty tell us 'Why I Teach' in a photo gallery on Chico State Today.

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