My Study Abroad Experience in Cuenca, Ecuador

by Anna Rice, ’16 (Biomedical Sciences)

As an incoming freshman, I knew I wanted to study abroad, but I was unsure about where and for how long. As I continued my Spanish language classes through my freshman and sophomore years, I explored the idea of studying abroad in a Spanish-speaking country. Through the individual study program at Minnesota State University, Mankato I chose to travel and study in Ecuador for 8 weeks to further my Spanish language skills. Because it is an individual study program, I was responsible for booking flights and traveling to Cuenca, Ecuador on my own. I was extremely nervous, as I think most people would be, but I said my goodbyes and boarded a plane to South America!

Once I arrived, my host family picked me up and took me back to their home. They were warm and welcoming and did not speak a word of English! I was definitely out of my comfort zone, but I tried to catch as much as I could and with in a week, I could already understand ten times more Spanish than the first night of my trip. It just goes to show, things that you aren’t comfortable with don’t have to be uncomfortable forever. I started classes at Estudio Sampere, the sister university through Minnesota State University, Mankato. There were a handful of Mankato students involved in my same program. We had not all met before arriving, but we became quick friends. We attended school from 7:30 am to 12 pm every day, taking grammar and discussion based courses, with around 5 to 6 students each. After class, I would return home for lunch, and do some homework until mid afternoon. Almost every day I would meet up with the other students from school and hang out at a café or go explore the city. We tried to immerse ourselves in the culture as much as we could by visiting markets, restaurants, cathedrals, orphanages etc. We had our fair share of fun, and my Spanish greatly improved as I was speaking more and more each day. By the end of my trip, I would go to class and not even think about what I was going to say, or worry about not understanding an assignment. By the time I finished my 12 credits at Estudio Sampere, I was ranked the level below a fluent Spanish speaker.

As we only had class Monday through Friday, on the weekends we were free to roam. The school did offer optional weekend trips like hiking through the Andes or visiting ancient ruins, which we took full advantage of. Other weekends we took off to explore on our own. One of my favorite parts of my study abroad experience was the trip we took to the Amazon Rain forest. After riding a Grey Hound bus for nine hours through the winding roads of El Cajas National Park in the Andes Mountains, we arrived in Puyo, a small town in central Ecuador. We stayed in cabins at what I would compare to a camp ground run by a local family. We went on hikes, canoed, swam in waterfalls, and visited a village of indigenous people. We were fortunate enough to spend the day learning how they make jewelry to sell, how they hunt, and their traditional dances and foods. I was immersed in their culture and was able to see first-hand how different their lives were compared to mine without running water or electricity. Interacting with the natives and learning about their culture was incredible. It was an absolutely amazing and eye-opening experience that I will remember for the rest of my life. The weekend to the jungle was definitely one of the best weekends of my trip.

Ecuador was one of the greatest experiences of my life and I would absolutely recommend studying there or just visiting. I made so many memories and had the opportunity to meet people from all over the world with whom I have made life-long friends. Anyone pondering the idea of studying abroad anywhere, DO IT! The experiences you gain and the people you meet will have a lasting impact on your undergraduate career and your life.


Mankato and Me

by Libby Guss, ’18 (Spanish and Social Work, Mankato; Minn.)


I have lived in Mankato for the past seventeen years. It is the community that raised me and helped shape me into who I am today. Volunteering around the city is not something that I feel obligated to do, rather, it is something I am proud and very happy to do.

Each week, I spend about seven hours volunteering at different places. While two of the places do tie in strongly with my majors, Spanish and Social Work, the other is a form of stress relief for me: “kitten therapy.” The Blue Earth Nicollet County Humane Society (BENCHS) is our regional no-kill animal shelter. Volunteering at BENCHS is how I start every Sunday. There, I clean the cat “condos,” feed the cats, give them fresh water, and provide them with the attention they deserve. I may be allergic to cats, but this does not stop me from cuddling with five kittens at once. I would recommend volunteering at BENCHS to any student who wants to be a part of their community while also de-stressing from the demands of college.

Libby at BENCHS

One of the other places I volunteer is the local hospital, part of the Mayo Clinic Health System. There, I am a part of STEP Force, which stands for Speedy Transport & Escort Pool. During my shifts each week, I receive calls to discharge patients, escort patients, deliver flowers, move wheelchairs, and more. Some of the people I meet call the hospital their second home due to the frequency of their visits, while others tell me that they haven’t been in a hospital for an extended period of time since they were born. Not every person I meet is in the hospital for unfortunate circumstances, however. In fact, many of the people I discharge are new mothers and their families. Young children always brighten up my day, too, such as one little girl who told me that her new sibling’s official name is “Baby Brother,” and that that is all he will ever be. My work at the hospital is never extremely challenging but it is always incredibly rewarding. I have the opportunity to interact with so many different people from a wide variety of backgrounds, each with a different story to tell. It feels like its own world, one where everyone is welcome but no one really wants to visit. Whenever I can put a smile on a patient’s face, I consider the day very successful.

Libby at the Hospital

My favorite organization by far to volunteer for is the YMCA’s Brother/Sister Program. Through it, I mentor a young girl in the community who comes from a background that does not allow her to have the same opportunities many other children have. She is one of the kindest, smartest, and funniest people I know. I look forward to every time we meet and spend a large portion of my free time planning activities for us to do. She loves animals and has told me she wants to either be a veterinarian, pet shop owner, doctor, or film maker when she grows up. I suggested she just be a “Businefilmternarian.” One activity that we have been working on is reading the Harry Potter series together in attempts to raise her reading level. She has fallen in love with the story of Harry. She told me that after we finish each book, we need to watch the corresponding movie and then talk about all the similarities and differences between them. I cannot put into words how proud she makes me with these quick comments she throws out all the time. Being a mentor with this program has been an invaluable experience for me. I have grown so much as a leader and as a person in general due to this program. Having my little sister in my life and hearing about her day to day activities and her dreams and aspirations motivates me to do so much more in my own life. In fact, it was because of the Brother/Sister Program that I found out that I can turn all of these passions of mine into an actual career as a Social Worker.

Libby and Teagan again          Libby and Teagan

It is my belief that everyone has the right to and deserves happiness. My mission is to help as many people as I can to find or rediscover happiness in their lives through whatever means necessary. With the help of the Honors Program and my volunteering experiences, I know that I will be able to set myself apart in the future and truly make a difference in someone’s life.

South Africa: Rich in Culture, Social Justice, and Hope

by Makenzie Petzel, ’16 (Social Work & Spanish; Arlington, Minn)


Makenzie (on the right) with her South African pen pal

The Department of Social Work at Minnesota State University, Mankato has a strong relationship with the Department of Social Work at the University of Fort Hare, South Africa. Our department at Minnesota State gives students the opportunity to travel to the city of East London, South Africa to meet fellow social work students, tour the country, learn about its history of social development, and work with an organization called CATCH Projects (Caring, Affirming, Training for Change). CATCH’s mission is to partner with community residents and champion active citizenship in the community of Mzamomhle in order to protect and promote the health and rights of vulnerable women, children and families impacted by poverty, violence and AIDS.

The experience of traveling to South Africa in May of 2015 challenged my thinking on how I live my life as a person and as an aspiring social worker. Throughout the trip, I compared the nature of the delivery of social services and governmental attitudes in the United States to what I was learning about social justice and the effects of apartheid in South Africa. I saw a greater level of passion for social justice among the South African students than I have during my classes at MSU Mankato. Now, this could be due to the fact that South Africa has greater cohesion in attaining social justice for all, or it could be due to individual differences among the people. Regardless of the reason, the difference in level of passion in students was evident. In my opinion, all social work students are motivated to help other people; otherwise they would not choose the profession. However, individual passion plays itself out differently for each person in the field in which they want to work and how vocal they are of their passion.

South Africa

A glimpse of the community of Mzamomhle

This experience also taught me a lot about privilege and opened my eyes to how blessed I have been in my life, in my upbringing, and how well my needs were provided for as a child and into adulthood. Happiness is not in the amount of things we have or where we live, it’s about the support around us and making the most of what we have. I can never say I know how it feels to grow up in poverty like many of the children in South Africa have, but I can use what I have been blessed with in my life to help others in my practice. For the most part, this will play out as I use my education in social work to ethically advocate for clients, but my passion for volunteer work, connection to my church community, and community connections can, and likely will, help me learn of programs and organizations to which I can refer my clients for additional support.

Going forward from this trip, I hope to always remember the level of passion and commitment to social justice I witnessed during my short time in the country. The organizations we visited in South Africa mentioned the phrase “planting seeds” on multiple occasions. Even on my own, I can plant seeds for change with every interaction with individuals, families, groups, communities, and greater society. Social problems in the United States are widespread and too big for any one person to tackle on his or her own, but if I am able to help one client beat homelessness, unemployment, or drug addiction through direct practice and referral, work is being done to break the negative cycles of social problems across the country. I believe it is important not to underestimate our power as individuals and in collaboration with others to promote change in our agencies, communities, and nations. I sincerely hope that greater passion for social justice was sparked for my fellow classmates as it was for me through this experience in cultural exchange.


The new community garden of CATCH

Meet Our New Staff Members

This year we have two new staff members in the Honors Office. Please read their introductions below.

Sara Baranczyk


My name is Sara Baranczyk, and I am a sophomore in the Honors Program at Minnesota State University, Mankato. I am double-majoring in Physics Education and Communication Arts and Literature Education. My goal is to eventually become a high school teacher, but I am not entirely sure which subject I want to teach (hence the double-major). Education is something that I am very passionate about and hope to help improve for future generations of students. Other passions of mine include food, literature, and art. I am really excited to join the Honors Leadership Team as the Media Relations Coordinator. I have always enjoyed writing and reporting, so I think this job is well-suited for me. Rachael Igo, the current Media Relations Director, is training me in to take over her position after she graduates. I am looking forward to this semester and having the opportunity to get to know everyone a little bit better this year.

Mariah Sletten


My name is Mariah Sletten. I am a freshman and student worker in the Honors Office. I joined the Honors Program and applied to be a part of the Honors Office team for many reasons – the main one being to obtain as many resources as possible to aid me in my efforts to make some type of a difference. I have a strong desire to become a social worker. I have enjoyed being able to listen to people’s problems and to do my best to help them since I was a child. This is the focus group I would love to help the most. The adoption process and foster care systems in particular are the two areas that I believe would allow me to strive to accomplish these aspirations. I would like to leave you with what will probably be the most important information to know about me: I am a huge book, music, and (drumroll please) Netflix enthusiast. I enjoy utilizing these tools to help me find my balance and unwind after a long day.

Summer Internship: The Opportunity to Discover the Density of Your Quantum States…

by Tatiana Soboleva


Being a junior in biochemistry last year placed me in the hot spot of academic development, and more importantly, the ardent desire to get outside my comfort-zone and explore new worlds. My prodigious excitement of this past summer was joining the summer research internship offered by the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at Utah State University through a fellowship I received with the help of the Office of University Fellowships.

Utah STate

Applying for my fellowship was quite a challenging process, but a rewarding one! In essence, the application required a thoughtful approach towards several parameters about myself as student, an objective auto-analysis if you will: discovering what tools I had in my tool box that made me of interest to the programs I applied to.  This was the perfect time to work closely with the Office of University Fellowships and professors from my department. They offered me great advice in connecting with research organizations I was interested in, including potential schools and labs that offer such opportunities. When it came to searching for specific fellowships and putting together my application, I found the staff at the Office of University Fellowships extremely helpful. They reviewed my applications multiple times, giving constructive and objective feedback. They helped me to write and re-write my essays until I had a well-rounded product that reflected my best personal capabilities, goals, and motivations.

Utah state 2

I pursued an inorganic and organometallic synthesis research opportunity and became part of a new scientific family- Dr. L. Berreau’s research lab. This is not an exaggeration- by joining the program, I became a member of an entire family where everyone was responsible for me and I was responsible for my project.

My experience at Utah State University helped me to determine my research field for my ultimate PhD career. I absolutely fell in love with the brainstorming of reaction design, its practical execution, and the analysis of outcomes and potential improvements.

During my internship, I learned a lot about the manner in which graduate school operates. I did observe only the summer work regime of the graduate students I collaborated with; however, I got an accurate image of what I could expect to see during my graduate studies. I was able to ask questions about graduate school experiences from the graduate students I knew in the lab. That helped me to understand what that realm of academia looks like. To summarize graduate studies in a sentence, it is a hard work! Graduate students spend a lot of time researching and studying. Working with graduate students gave me the opportunity to hear the heart rate of the lab.


My fellowship opportunity let me clearly see the cracks in the walls of my knowledge in chemistry and biochemistry. It also revealed areas that I was interested in, but did not have a prior exposure to. I like to nickname my experience, “the diagnostic center for my academic car.” It might sound strange, but truly, it was exciting to be able to visualize what I need to remodel, refresh, repair and buy for my academic-knowledge car. I love shopping in this case!

A lesson I learned about the process of becoming a professional is that it is often staggered by a person’s inability to determine areas that need improvement. Gradually they become satisfied with where they are at; that is not what science is about! They have to be perpetually mobile; otherwise, the flame that was once lit in them will cease to exist with the lack of oxygen.

To conclude this short discussion, I would like to thank the scientific family of Dr. Berreau’s lab that adopted me for the past summer, showing me the path of my interests and giving me tools to get close to the destination; letting me perceive the density of my quantum states and inspiring me to extensively replenish my knowledge.

Some of My Favorite Intercultural Encounters

An inspiring insight on culture as a warm welcome to campus by your Honors Director, Dr. Dahlman


Global citizenship to me does not necessarily mean exotic travel to faraway places. Just traveling to new places without investing in learning about cultures is just that, traveling. Globally minded citizens engage with people from different cultures wherever and whenever.   It is my life’s mission to learn about other people, their cultures and views and promote intercultural understanding.

I would like to share just a couple of my favorite intercultural encounters and what I learned from them.  One of my favorite interactions has been with a student who I got to know in one of my classes many years ago at MSU, Mankato. She was from Egypt and had also lived in Kenya. She had lived half of her life in a refugee camp.  Coming to the U.S. and Minnesota meant an amazing opportunity for her both personally and professionally.  However, she faced many obstacles while in college.  Despite the fact that she was a brilliant individual, she wasn’t always able to demonstrate this through her language abilities. She told me that failure was not an option for her because her professional goals were not hers alone but that her hopes and dreams were also for the people back home in Africa. We stayed in touch when she graduated. I just saw her a month ago at the University of Minnesota, where she is currently in Medical School (and doing really well!!).  She has taught me so many lessons about resilience, hope and commitment.

When we talk about cultures, we don’t just mean ethnicity, race or different countries.  My next example deals with culture in terms of socio-economic status.  This incident happened last winter. I was sitting at a coffee shop in the Twin Cities on a Saturday morning. I saw a homeless person sitting on a park bench outside of the coffee shop.  It was chilly and he did not have a coat on.  From the corner of my eye I saw how he entered the coffee shop (I assumed to warm up a bit) but was escorted out as he did not purchase a drink.  I stood up and went outside to him and asked him if I could purchase a coffee for him. He looked me in the eyes and said, “Thank you ma’am.” I purchased a huge cup of coffee and a muffin for him.  Five minutes later I saw how he stood up and walked right into the coffee shop and sat down in one of the comfy leather chairs and drank his coffee.  That day I learned the lesson of human dignity and how we can do little things to help even if we cannot rescue people.

My last example of a cultural encounter happened last December when I was in Warsaw, Poland, to do a workshop for teachers there.  I take pride in the fact that I speak several languages and always try to accommodate communication by speaking the local language.  However, I don’t speak any Polish.  Many people spoke English there but not all. I noticed how people who knew very little English tried so hard so that we could communicate.  I felt bad as I was in their country and they had to accommodate to my needs.  I understand that English is a common language for people across the globe, but we still need to be aware of the truths underlying those communications, for example, who gets to speak in their language? How do we show respect through language choice and communication? How does language relate to power? That was a very humbling experience for me.  At a minimum, we should never just start speaking English, assuming that the other person speaks/understands English, but always kindly ask if that indeed is the case.

I look forward to a great year in Honors! I look forward to hearing about your intercultural encounters (old and new) and the learning that resulted from them. Always remember:

“Life begins at the end of our comfort zone.” – Neale Donald Walsch

A Welcome Message from Your First-Year Learning Community Coordinator

A Welcome Message from Your First-Year Learning Community Coordinator

By: Katelynn Malecha (Lonsdale, MN; Exercise Science & Pre-OT, ’18)


The Learning Community Coordinator (LCC) is a role that I am ecstatic to fulfill this coming academic year for the Honors Program. I vividly remember my first year here at Minnesota State University, Mankato (MNSU) and signing up for the Honors First-Year Learning Community, recalling how excited I was to be a part of a community of students that all have a common goal: to push themselves even harder in their university years. We wanted something that would set us apart by being a leader, global citizen, and researcher. The community was a group of people that I could always count on and was structured by our LCC Ali Oku Eastman. I remember thinking, “Who is this LCC, what does LCC stand for, and how will this change my college experience?” Little did I know that this man was here for the first-year honors students to make sure we understand what the Honors Program is and to make us feel like we are a part of not only the Honors Program, but also as a community- a family. We volunteered as a group for Echo Food Shelf, ice skated, rock climbed, attended plays, cooked a large Thanksgiving meal, participated in study groups, listened to professors’ advice on how to study for finals, and took part in many other fun events that contributed to making my first year memorable.

This coming year I am fortunate enough to be the Honors First-Year LCC and could not be more excited to help first-year honors students! This past year, I was the MNSU German Club Vice President. Through this role, I discovered the importance of thorough communication, organization, flexibility, and enthusiasm.  I learned that I cannot always expect large attendance, but to always make the most of who does attend. I plan to keep this optimism in the Learning Community (LC). I want all of the Honors First-Year LC members to know that my door will be open to assist them academically or as another friend or resource to help with their successes and failures (but every failure can become a success). I will keep track of their academic progress, clarify any questions, form study groups, create fun bonding activities, and navigate them through their first year here at MNSU. After all, one only has a one freshman year at college, so I want to help make it their best!

In addition, to being the Honors First-Year LCC I also am the Honors Executive Board Secretary, so I plan to use both roles to benefit each other. My leadership skills will be put to the test this coming year and I am thrilled to not only help students, but also to see the impact that they leave on me. I had a wonderful and memorable first year, so now it is my turn to give back and help first-year students, as I was helped my first year.