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Associate professor Kevin Delgado in Cuba

Faculty experiences abroad add
global context to SDSU education

By Michael Klitzing

On one of her many research trips to rural Uganda, associate professor of global health Susan Kiene and her family were invited to dinner by a local villager. The woman served her guests chicken—a big gesture in an area where meat is expensive and typically reserved for special occasions.

Kiene and her guests soon found out just how big a gesture it was.

“We asked her where she got the chicken and she said her grandmother gave it to her at her grandfather’s funeral so she could have eggs to feed her daughter,” Kiene said. “And she cooked this chicken for us! It’s one of those things where we just couldn’t fathom the generosity. What’s the equivalent for us – giving someone your car?”

As a scientist, Kiene is driven by data. In Uganda, she tests methods of linking individuals who receive home-based HIV testing to health care services and treatment. She has also begun research in Brazil, studying how to improve the health care of drug users with HIV and tuberculosis.

But in making human connections around the globe, Kiene is bringing more than research findings back to her students at SDSU.

“Because I mainly work with doctoral students and I’m training them in research, I really try to train them to have perspective,” Kiene said. “You need to be on the ground and see the lives of the people who are the participants in your research. It gives you such insight into not only what you’re finding but what you should do next – it’s the whole context.”

More than 400 SDSU faculty members travel internationally each year to teach, lecture, conduct research and lead study abroad programs. As a result, they are bringing their experiences – and that “whole context” – into classrooms, lecture halls and labs across campus.

Associate professor of global health Susan Kiene in Uganda

Stepping into history 

Even if you’ve only seen it in photos, it’s easy to understand why Lori Verstegen Ryan considers Venice her favorite city. The professor of management and director of the Corporate Governance Institute loves the lifestyle of the city where all traffic moves either by foot or canal.

“It’s kind of like walking back in history,” she said.

For three weeks over the summer, Venice was her workplace thanks to a grant from Erasmus + – a program funded by the European Union that brings American faculty to teach at European universities. Each day, Ryan walked 10 minutes to her office at Università Ca' Foscari Venezia, located at the intersection of the lagoon and a canal. There she met with Italian doctoral students and presented modules on business ethics and corporate governance from a U.S. perspective.

It was also an educational experience for Ryan.

“I now have a much better feel for how Italy does corporate governance and how it fits into the European Union,” she said. “That was kind of eye-opening for me. To actually be in the context makes all the research and reading that I’ve done that much more real.”

Ryan said she will now teach the Italian perspective in her corporate governance courses. As for business ethics, she came back with something else for her students: photos of the counterfeiters who set up shop in the shadow of Venice’s famed high-end shops.

“It will definitely come up in my classes,” Ryan said.

Professor Lori Verstegen Ryan in Venice

Drawn to the drums

Kevin Delgado, associate professor of music and coordinator of world music and ethnomusicology, was always attracted by the allure of Cuban popular music – its intensity, its vitality and how it sounded so distinct from other music from the region.

“I thought, ‘Where did this come from?’” he said.

Delgado knew he had to witness this unique music firsthand, and he’s visited 11 times since 1995 – despite the Cold War travel ban between the U.S. and Cuba. While on the island he studied under the tutelage of master musicians and even participated in backyard rituals where families honor their ancestors with song and dance – as well as offerings of alcohol and tobacco.

He also witnessed the culture of paranoia that exists under the Castro regime – the way people censor themselves in their own living room and use hand signals for fear that they are being overheard. They, for instance, will stroke their chins to refer to Fidel Castro or tap their shoulders to indicate they are talking about the military police.

Delgado, who focuses on the intersection between music, culture, politics, identity, history, and technology, makes all of it come alive to students in the Cuban seminar he teaches.

“Instances of how people manage their everyday lives provide anecdotes that bring the subject matter to life,” Delgado said. “Some of the cynicism, the trash people talk about their government, the jokes they tell - there’s a lot of stuff that can otherwise fall through the cracks.

“Those are things that don’t come out in a book or a scholarly article.”

Associate professor Kevin Delgado in Cuba

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