Jagdish Sheth was a refugee from Burma in the early years of his life, his family having fled from the invading Japanese.
Then in India, his sisters — prevented by culture from fulfilling their own ambitions — noticed his propensity for learning and encouraged him to continue his education.
Hardships and hope shaped the man who is now a chaired marketing professor at Emory University, a sought-after corporate adviser and a respected thinker on how the world is reorienting toward Asia.
“Dislocations in life, if you survive them, are probably the strongest character builders,” Dr. Sheth said at the Kennesaw State University International Achievement Awards April 26.
“Jag,” as he affectionately known, may be in the Goizueta Business School at Emory, but he also four years ago endowed the annual celebration of Kennesaw’s many innovative global programs and the faculty, donors and students who make them possible.
A recurring theme of the evening event was the transformative power of international educational experiences, especially the way travel creates cultural understanding and gives students a level of comfort with discomfort.
“If we found ourselves in a sticky situation, we would be able to get ourselves out of it,” said Anna Holland, an interdisciplinary studies major reflecting on how visits to Australia, Cuba, Italy and Morocco built students’ confidence.
The award-winning “Around the World in 80 Days” program took 10 students to the four countries for three weeks at a time, giving them a taste of cultural immersion, specially tailored coursework and the ability to compare multiple cultures with their own.
Eight professors were involved. In an unscripted moment at the end of the ceremony, one student participant took the microphone to acknowledge how faculty shepherded the group with care through airports and sometimes-chaotic cities around the world.
“They really showed us who we were,” he said, nearly tearing up and eliciting applause from an audience that already preparing to leave after the banquet’s formal end.
Faculty were among those honored with the international awards at the event, which was attended by the consuls general of Peru, Mexico, Costa Rica and Japan, along with a representative from the Canadian consulate general.
Lin Hightower, a professor and textile designer who has worked all over the Middle East and Asia helping low-income artisans design their products for optimal global markets, was honored with the Sheth Distinguished Faculty Award for International Achievement.
Other winners included:
- Distinguished International Community Partner Award: Marcel Duhaneanu, rector for the Institute for Business Administration at ASEBUSS in Bucharest, Romania, who runs a dual-business-degree program with Kennesaw State’s Coles College of Business.
- Sheth Distinguished Alumni Award for Exceptional Humanitarian and Service Achievement: Former KSU international student retention director Catherine Odera, who now works as director of international student services at Dixie State University.
- Global Public Service Prize: Maria do Carmo Silveira, executive secretary of the Community of Portuguese Language Countries, who was integral to the university’s Year of the Portuguese-speaking World program in 2015-16. She hails from the small African island nation of Sao Tome and Principe.
- Emerson Scholarship for the Advancement of International Education: Simone Stevens, a dance major who through the scholarship will spend time at the famed contemporary dance studio Batsheva Dance Co. in Tel Aviv, where she’ll also study how religion and culture have impacted the art form in Israel.
Sam Olens, the former Georgia attorney general who became the university’s president about six months ago, extolled the work of Kennesaw State’s Division of Global Affairs, which oversees its education-abroad programs, a Chinese-funded Confucius Institute, multiple internationally oriented research centers, English-language programs and the United Nations training institute, CIFAL Atlanta.
Mr. Olens, who earned his law degree after gaining bachelor’s and master’s degrees in international affairs, underscored the importance of global education for the university, expressing a bit of tongue-in-cheek jealousy about the around-the-world trip.
“They didn’t offer that when I was going to college,” he said.
Lance Askildson, vice provost and chief international officer, said education-abroad programs are about more than time in the classroom; they prepare the next generation of global citizens with a greater level of cultural awareness needed to compete in the international arena.
“We believe higher education is about more than just knowledge. It’s about experiences that transform understanding and highlight our shared human condition,” Dr. Askildson said.
Travel is an important avenue for coming to this realization, said Ken Harmon, KSU’s provost, who closed the night recounting the way trips to India have changed his mindset by helping him see the beauty in other cultures.
“I came home and I said, ‘I’m transformed.’”
Learn more about Kennesaw State’s Division of Global Affairs here.