State Department Collaboration Brings South American Student Leaders to Campus

By Rashad Mulla

This winter, a group of students from Bolivia, Paraguay, and Peru came to George Mason University as part of the State Department’s Study of United States Institutes for Student Leaders (SUSI) program, run by faculty members in the New Century College (NCC).

For Mason faculty member Lisa Gring-Pemble, director of this winter’s SUSI program at Mason, the experience was memorable for its rewarding moments.

“You know those moments when you feel like everything is right with the world? We had a lot of those in this program,” says Gring-Pemble, who is assistant dean of NCC. “Hearing our students share their personal experiences, perspectives, and views on leadership was extraordinary.”

Students visiting from South America, as part of a study-abroad program with the U.S. State Department, perform at the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C.

The program was geared toward students from underserved regions in Latin America and the Caribbean. The selected students, undergraduates in college, were identified by their embassies as exemplary leaders.

“I was one of the teachers, yet I learned because I saw America through the eyes of others,” Gring-Pemble says. “The students were without a doubt, one of the most intelligent, committed groups I have ever had the pleasure of working with. They had this abiding sense of commitment to family, to community, to learning, and to making the most of their experience at Mason.”

The approximately 20 students in Mason’s program received an on-the-go educational experience, traveling to different locations to learn about subjects native to those areas. They arrived in early January and stayed for a month.

As part of a curriculum developed by Rei Berroa, professor of Spanish in the Department of Modern and Classical Languages, the student group studied American family life and culture in Pittsburgh, immigration in New York City, leadership and slavery in Philadelphia, the limits of discursive democratic decision-making in Gettysburg, and American history in Williamsburg.

The students visited the White House, the U.S. Capitol, the National Museum of the American Indian, the Newseum, and the offices of the Washington Post. In addition, they met a host of important individuals, including:

  • Sonia Sotomayor, U.S. Supreme Court Justice
  • Maria Otero, Under Secretary of State
  • Rex Lee Jim, vice president of the Navajo nation
  • Robert Lederer, Mayor of Fairfax
  • Rick Rappoport, Chief of Police for Fairfax City

The program concluded with the student group meeting representatives of the State Department, in which the students from Mason and other universities with State Department winter programs gave research project presentations.

New Century College faculty and students pose with students visiting from South America, as part of a study abroad program with the State Department, at the Smithsonian Museum of the American Indian in Washington DC

New Century College faculty and students pose with students visiting from South America, as part of a study-abroad program with the State Department, at the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C. Photos by Alexis Glenn.


Gring-Pemble oversaw Mason’s inaugural SUSI program in the summer of 2011, and as this semester’s experience wound down, she said she applied to the State Department for this program again. She keeps in touch with the students from the summer, and she plans on doing the same for these students.

“These friendships are genuine,” she says. “Once you’ve created these bonds, they stay intense and endure.”

“Even though we are an incredibly diverse university, the type of diversity that these students brought was not already here,” she continues. “The regions and ideologies these students represented were different than any others. This was innovation at its finest.”

This article originally appeared on the College of Humanities and Social Sciences website in a slightly different form.

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