From the College of Humanities and Social Sciences
Dominican Republic

A remote town five members of USU’s Medical Unity Club visited while volunteering in the Dominican Republic. Photo courtesy of Jeff Dickman

A Global Reach

Becoming a citizen of the world means realizing actions taken in one part of it affect another. It requires acknowledging that good ideas emerge from all corners of the Earth. And that shared experiences between people of varying faiths, ethnicities, and languages can reveal more commonalities than differences.


In 1969, Maria Cordero and her family emigrated from Cuba, landed in Florida, and were given winter coats before continuing north to Chicago. They had never seen snow before.

“I remember people talking about ‘the big trip’ because we needed to get ready,” said Cordero, associate professor of Spanish. Every time her mother left for the market, Cordero would grab her hat, thinking it was time. But it was always a false alarm. Until one day it wasn’t, and by then she had stopped reaching for her hat. Sometimes Cordero shares her background with students. She wants them to understand that characters in Spanish literature may not be real, but their conversations often reflect those of people who lived them.

“It’s not just homework I assign,” Cordero said.

She sees her role at the university as a bridge between cultures. She has led study abroad trips to Spain, Costa Rica, and the Dominican Republic and service-learning groups to Mexico to build houses. It is where classroom discussions play out in real-time.

“As a professor I get to open that world up to students,” Cordero said. “I think it’s more impactful when you can take students into the field. I think it makes the learning more lasting and deeper. There is a power in sharing knowledge and experiences. Students tend to live in a bubble, and we think about the day-to-day. I like to challenge them.”

She requires students participating in service-learning activities to write journals to keep their memories alive. Often, they write how grateful they are. But for Cordero, being grateful is not enough. “They need to do something, find some way to make a difference in the world,” she said. “Making students accountable is a very important part of a teacher’s job.”

Cordero is careful to convey that service-learning is not a one-sided transaction. Both the student and the community in which they are volunteering should benefit. It should not be a top down approach where students come to “help” communities, she said. “Service learning, if not done properly, can do a lot of harm. It can reinforce stereotypes. You need to go in with a sense of humility. How do you know what these people need? You need to ask questions. When learning happens both through the mind and the heart it stays with you.”

Dominican Republic

A wheelchair Jeff Dickman observed in use at the batey. Photo courtesy of Jeff Dickman


Jeff Dickman, ’14, is president of the Medical Unity Club, a multicultural group for students aiming to become health professionals. Dickman, like many members, dreams of becoming a doctor. Throughout college he volunteered for local schools and nonprofits as a classroom aide, helping second language learners practice their English. Dickman felt volunteering abroad would give him a different perspective.

He recalled Cordero—the Unity Club’s advisor—mentioning a free clinic while visiting the Dominican Republic years earlier. He helped organize a trip over winter break with four other Utah State students. They departed December 11, checking five, 50 lb. suitcases packed with donated medical supplies, toys, and clothes they had gathered.

“We contacted the clinics prior [to leaving] to see what they needed,” Dickman said.

The students spent nine days shadowing doctors in the village of Yamasá and traveled to bateys, towns housing the poorest of the poor. Most inhabitants in the bateys have no access to healthcare other than weekly visits by a rotating staff of volunteer medical personnel. There Dickman saw a wheelchair made of a plastic garden chair on a platform with wheels, and houses erected from plywood. He was haunted by an elderly woman with dementia receiving IV fluids.

“As the tube was placed, large, wet tears streamed from her eyes, and she lifted her free arm and prayed in a language that was no Spanish I had ever learned,” Dickman wrote in his reflection paper.

Many of the patients suffered from illnesses like severe gout, undiagnosed mental disorders, and malnutrition, he said. Dickman believes the experience will make him a better doctor and more empathetic to individuals who don’t come from his background. He is working on a paper with Cordero about performing service learning and contributing a section from the student’s perspective.

“It’s cool to see another healthcare system—both the good and the bad,” he said. “Most people understand that service learning abroad is a good thing. I want to tell them not that they should, but that they can.”

Justin Berry

Justin Berry is the first recipient of the Ray and Andrea Coward Scholarship for Global Comminication. He used it to travel to China. Photo courtesy of Justin Berry


Justin Berry, ’13, had a very different international learning experience. After serving a church mission to Taiwan, he enrolled at Utah State to nurture his desire to explore Chinese language and culture and propel his business career forward. Berry was introduced to a new global communications major at the university. He signed on knowing he would have some explaining to do to future employers.

“No one else had ever gotten this degree before,” he said. “People that study accounting become accountants. The people that study global communications become—you fill in the blank. There’s no job you’re expected to take. It’s a field that has the potential to take me far because the world is so connected.”

After graduating, Berry returned to Southeast Asia, albeit with a different lens. As the inaugural recipient of the Ray and Andrea Coward Scholarship for Global Communication, he arranged to fund a business trip to China to incorporate the major’s required international practicum experience. It was an opportunity to see the relevancy of his studies in action. Over the course of three and a half weeks in Taiwan and China while visiting vendors, Berry witnessed lessons from his ethics, language, and communications courses unfold in conversation. He also experienced the environmental consequences of globalization.

“After about a week in Shanghai and four days in Beijing, I came down with a sore throat,” he wrote of his experience. “I didn’t expect to grasp the pollution in China by suffering some of the side effects … I learned that in some way, all of the products and services I deal with, use, and even purchase are produced at the environmental expense of the country of production. I will always have mixed feelings about this issue because of my observations.”

Cheri Mockli

Cherie Mockli conducted a photo voice research project in India last summer. She stands with a local teacher in front of the display. Photo courtesy of Cherie Mockli


Cherie Mockli, MA ’14, recalls the first time she saw cockroaches. Both her parents are social workers and during a home visit to one of her mother’s clients, Mockli saw a child her age living in a home with insects zipping underneath the furniture.

“It had a huge impact on me,” she said. “It gave me an appreciation for what I have from a very early age. I feel very strongly about helping people have access to resources and to services they may not know exist.”

This mentality has shaped her life. After studying fine arts at the University of Utah, Mockli taught drama and art for a few years, but it just didn’t feel right. She took a pay cut to teach English as a Second Language and work with the immigrant and refugee community in Salt Lake City. While she found her passion, she returned to graduate school to study social work and gain competency in this arena.

Mockli traveled to India last summer to implement a photo voice research project with Shannon Hughes, a former social work professor at Utah State. They traveled to the Akshar Institute, a clinic offering services for mentally ill patients, and recruited 11 people to participate in the study.

“We had the clients demonstrate through photography what it feels like to have a mental illness in their community,” Mockli said.

“One woman took a photo of a cactus,” she said. “It looks fine from a distance but you don’t want to get close to it.”

Another woman photographed the water buffalo that are ubiquitous in Indian society. They remain undisturbed despite sprawling across the roads, causing traffic jams. The patients also documented what provides them with hope.

“I think that for some of the women it was a powerful way to express themselves,” Mockli said.

This summer she will return to India with Hughes and develop her own research project. Mockli aims to study refugees in India since it is a group she would like to work with upon graduation.

“They have all these obstacles,” Mockli said. “Language. Jobs. When [I] see people who have struggled so much, who have lost so much, and sacrificed so much to get here, and are still struggling but now in a different way and never give up, it empowers me.”