Bentley, Cairo receive International Education Faculty Achievement Award

The SIUE professors responsible for a collaboration between departments that began with a workshop and culminated in a study abroad program were awarded the 2013 International Education Faculty Achievement Award last week by Chancellor Julie Furst-Bowe.

Anthropology professor Aminata Cairo and theater and dance professor Kathryn Bentley created the interdisciplinary program and its study abroad component, in which students travel to Suriname, a country in northern South America.

The award itself is a great honor, according to Cairo.

“My family’s originally from Suriname, so the fact that I get to take students home means a whole lot to me, and it means a whole lot to my people in Suriname,” Cairo said. “They are very proud and very excited… they like it when you come back.”

Similarly, Bentley said she is honored to receive recognition from Furst-Bowe.

“I think it’s great that the university recognizes the work that myself and Aminata and other folks that are taking students on study abroad programs [are doing]… exposing students to as much as they can before they leave here,” Bentley said.

As part of the study abroad program, Cairo said theater students learn anthropological skills while theatre techniques aid anthropology students. The students participate in cultural workshops and service learning together and individual projects for their respective departments.

The theater techniques, according to Cairo, help students with group building, as well as field work, which requires dealing with different people.

Prior to this year’s Suriname trip, Bentley said the students met once a month to get to know each other, participated in theater improvisational games and learned “how to be involved with each other” and interact with communities.

The week before leaving, Bentley said the students met every day and her students were introduced or re-introduced to ethnographic and anthropological research methods.

The theater component teaches students about interaction and “being present in the moment,” according to Bentley, while the anthropological component teachings about interviewing.

Senior anthropology major Courtney Doole said working with the theater and dance department was “a lot of fun.”

“It helped me to recognize more of the beauty of the culture around us,” Doole said. “It helped provide a connection with the community and helped me to think outside of the box, more creatively.”

As far as service learning, Cairo said SIUE students went into Suriname schools and played theater games with the children.

Cairo and Bentley have taken students to Suriname twice. Traveling to Suriname is a “mind-blowing experience” for many students, according to Cairo.

“They get so much out of it,” Cairo said. “There’s just things that I cannot – that you cannot learn from a book, understanding your potential as a world citizen, there’s only so far you can go with that in a classroom.”

Senior anthropology major Jennifer Lewis participated in the most recent study abroad trip and said the Suriname population was diverse, including Indonesians, Chinese and Africans. Going on the trip also gave her the realization that she made the right decision in selecting anthropology as her major.

“A lot of people who are in cultural anthropology, [they] always talk about going to other places, then when they do realize, ‘This isn’t for me…,’” Lewis said. “This really showed me that I can do this.”


Furst-Bowe said the study abroad program is “very unique” because of its location and the fact that it brings two departments together. One of Furst-Bowe’s goals is for more students to participate in study abroad so they can experience an exposure to different countries, cultures and ways of learning.

“I talk to so many students when they return from a study abroad experience…,” Furst-Bowe said. “They come back and they’re just very changed because I think that they find is their way of living and learning here is, they’re rather set in their ways and it opens their eyes, opens their minds to just all kinds of different ways of thinking.”

Bentley said the collaboration has been “awesome” and is something “more people could embrace.”

“It’s very meaningful for the students to see two different disciplines working well together,” Bentley said. “It broadens their scope of what they can offer the world.”

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