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Sandra Wiley: Putting a Stamp on international education at U-M

April 23, 2019
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ANN ARBOR—Sandra Wiley is a one-stop shop for all things international education at the University of Michigan Stamps School of Art and Design.

Whether she’s helping students find an international education experience that is both safe and enriching, advising a foreign-born student on structuring an independent study to better understand the culture she came from, or assisting students as they process their experience upon their return to campus, Wiley is always there to lend a helping hand.

As director of international study programs at Stamps, Wiley has done it all—from collaborating at the university level to establish centralized resources for international education to designing programs, negotiating partnerships, creating materials and helping students get passports.

Wiley has been recognized with this year’s U-M’s President’s Award for Distinguished Service in International Education. The distinction recognizes the extraordinary efforts of U-M faculty and staff who keep the university on the leading edge of international education for its students.

“In order to honor our mission and to keep this university great, we must continue to foster connections on a global level,” said U-M’s President Mark Schlissel. “Over the course of her career, Sandra Wiley has changed the lives of our students and fostered partnerships across the world.”

From farm to (director’s) table

Wiley grew up on a Michigan farm in Schoolcraft, where her family raised crops and livestock.

“Schoolcraft was a village at that time. We didn’t even have a stoplight. There were 60 people in my class and we five kids worked on the farm with our parents,” she said. “I was immersed in this wonderful rural culture that taught me to take initiative, be independent and to problem solve, not to mention skills like farm-to-table cooking, sewing, knitting, building fences and operating heavy machinery.

“But we didn’t travel very much. When you farm, taking a vacation is not something you do. The work is 24/7.”

But when she was a senior in high school, she had the opportunity to travel with her choir on a three-week trip to Germany.

“It completely changed my perspective on the world and my perspective on being an American,” she said. “I think you learn both of those things when you leave the comforts of your own home. It was the first time I’d ever been on the plane. First time I’d left the country. I could not wait to go back after that trip.”

After obtaining a degree in anthropology at the University of Notre Dame (and studying in Austria), Wiley joined the U-M School of Public Health in 1992 to work on a federally funded “U-M Population Fellows Program” focused on training opportunities in international family planning. When the federal funds for that program dried up, she moved to the School of Kinesiology, where administrators wanted to create a center for global opportunities.

“That’s when I really became involved in international education,” she said. “It was fun to learn about a new academic discipline in order to figure out how best to implement a global program for those students.”

It was during this time that Wiley joined others in their efforts to gather and centralize resources related to international education—travel registry, insurance, program availability—things she admits might sound boring but are essential in managing the travel of thousands of students, faculty and staff annually. She had her hands on the development of the universitywide travel registry, the Global Michigan Portal and M-
Compass, was a member of the International Travel Oversight Committee, chaired the Council on Global Engagement and is part of the International Education Network.

“Sandy’s hard work and influence can literally be seen in almost every aspect of the international education infrastructure at U-M,” said Katie Lopez, assistant director of the Office of Global Activities at the School of Social Work. “There are few colleagues on campus who have provided the same level of commitment, dedication and service to our field.”

Putting a STAMP on international education

In 2010, Stamps faculty voted to make an international experience mandatory for its students—the first and only U-M academic unit to require education abroad for all students, and the only art and design school in the nation that requires it.

Wiley was hired to implement the new graduation requirement for the school, which has about 130 students a year in education-abroad programs.

Because some programs were already under way, she had to hit the ground running: working with faculty who were already teaching study-abroad courses, figuring out the best ways to prepare students, finding out which destinations were best for artists and designers, how to best support students upon their return.

“The biggest challenge was the volume and that it was already happening. It was just running like mad to try to get things up and running,” she said. “It’s just enormous, terrific, to have that buy-in from faculty. I didn’t have to convince anyone of why it was important.”

While the portfolio of programs abroad has been refined over the years, the need to support students before, during and after the travel has not changed, she points out. And students who worked with her are happy she was there for them.

“My art and design international experience began in Sandy’s office,” said Stamps alum Sally Volkmann, BFA 2012, who went to Scotland to explore how Nigeria and Scotland are connected through trade and textiles. Based on her work there, she created a multi-media installation “Afro-Kilt: The Thread That Binds.”

“I was really nervous about traveling alone. Sandy went above and beyond to help me figure out the logistics so I could focus on the project,” said Volkmann, now a documentary film producer.

“Working with Sandy was invaluable,” said West Chase, BFA 2016, who traveled to Copenhagen to work in urban design and rethinking the use of an actual site. “She helped me find scholarships with other U-M organizations and helped me make an informed and planned decision.”

Terence Harp II, BFA 2015, who also studied in Copenhagen, said neither he nor his parents had left the country until then.

“We had a lot of questions about what it would be like. I’m black, so we wanted to have a better understanding what it was like,” said Harp, who after graduation worked for ad agencies in New York until recently relocating to Chicago, where he plans to work with community organizations. “She was active the whole time helping us navigate the whole process, making sure credits transferred, that we were in the right places.”

For Constanza McKinstry, her international experience was exploring a different culture within Chile, from where she had moved 10 years prior. McKinstry, who grew up in a working class neighborhood in the country’s capital, Santiago, traveled south to embed herself in Mapuche culture, indigenous natives to southern Chile and Argentina, where she learned about their weaving techniques.

“Sandy really pushes you to think of the best experience you can have,” she said. “I don’t think my experience would have been as good and intense if I had gone through Florence, for example. This experience pushed me to think of my own country in a different light.

“I realized I didn’t know my country at all. In Santiago, if you get hurt, there’s a hospital next to you. There’s a store on every corner. In southern Chile, that’s not the case. You have to travel one, two hours to get to the hospital, to get to the city. I was a foreigner in my own country, and to the residents, to my instructors, I was a winca (white person).”

Wiley said she understands how it can be scary for students to be forced to leave their comfort zone.

“I feel like I’ve been really lucky to be at the university during this time when it was ready for change to further internationalize the campus and expand its administrative infrastructure,” she said. “It’s fun and challenging.

“After working with hundreds of students, I know each one will be changed by their international experience. Its full impact may not be realized until many years later, but it will surface in their tolerance for change, adaptability, empathy and awareness of how to be a global citizen.”

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