So Many Countries, So Little Time
Susan Place is the well-traveled new interim dean of the reconfigured
School of Graduate and International Programs, incorporating interdisciplinary
programs formerly administered by the dean of Undergraduate Education.
Place has traveled in Mexico, Central and South America, Thailand,
India, China, Japan, Europe, and southern Africa. She lived in Costa
Rica for two years, one while doing research for her dissertation
on the impact of the export beef boom and another on a faculty Fulbright
to research the relationship between local people and a national
Place became the interim dean of Graduate School, International,
and Sponsored Programs in August. Her predecessor, Bob Jackson,
who held the position since 1996, returned to his home department,
Place received her undergraduate and master’s degrees in
Spanish and Latin American studies, respectively, at University
of California, Los Angeles, as well as her doctorate in geography,
with an emphasis on biogeography. In 1988, she came to CSU, Chico
to take a position as an assistant professor of geography and planning.
Her interests range from ecotourism to the role of women in development
to international environmental issues, from a political ecology
perspective. Her area of specialty is Central America. Place served
as associate dean of the School of Graduate, International, and
Sponsored Programs for three years prior to becoming interim dean
“One reason I’m doing international programs is that
I am a firm and enthusiastic believer that Americans really need
to get out of the U.S. and find out what the rest of the world is
about,” says Place. “If more Americans could see the
U.S. from different perspectives, we would probably have a very
different foreign policy.”
The importance of understanding those perspectives was underscored
for Place on Sept. 11, 2001. “When I heard people talking
about the attacks, it seemed as if there was not a very good understanding
of context, which is not to say that we should be making an apology
for the attacks, but I felt we should be trying to understand why
they happened,” she explains.
Place’s conviction led to “Understanding the Roots
of Terrorism,” a series of forums held that fall. “We
have a lot of expertise on campus, so the idea was to utilize it
to increase understanding of why this happened and how to respond
to it in ways that will be useful as opposed to counterproductive,”
she explains. The forums were attended by members of the North State
community as well as Chico State students, faculty, and staff. A
number of people indicated that the series helped them make some
sense of the events of Sept. 11 and come to terms with the emotional
impact of the attacks.
Along with the Graduate School, and International Studies, Place
oversees the General Studies Thematic and Leadership Studies programs
formerly under the purview of the dean for Undergraduate Education.
Place is also the director of Multi-cultural and Gender Studies
(MCGS). Sponsored Programs is now under the administration of the
new vice provost for research, Katie Milo.
Of these substantial responsibilities, Place says her biggest
challenge is MCGS. “Carol Burr did a wonderful job of creating
that center, really engaging people from across the campus,”
says Place. “My challenge is to keep that momentum going.
I want to be sure MCGS is one of the principal players in the conversation
about diversity on campus, and, hopefully, the policy that gets
made about diversity.”
says that Bill Loker (left), her replacement as interim associate
dean, “brings a lot of talent and expertise to the school.
And he, too, has extensive experience in Latin America.” Place
continues to work closely with Tasha Dev, Study Abroad coordinator.
“She’s done a great job—we’ve doubled our
numbers in the past three years,” says Place. “One area
we are branching out into is more faculty-led programs, like the
one at Chukyo University in Japan. That was an initiative Bob Jackson
spearheaded.” During the May–June intersession, business
professor Mark Levine taught an international business course that
started in Chico and concluded at Chukyo University. Seventeen students
Place is looking forward to her first “real vacation”
in years. A pleasure trip next summer will take her and her husband
to Alaska. Her husband, Kirk Yarnell, is a retired wildlife photographer
who knows Alaska well.