I like to wonder. And given the nature of my job, I also love to wander. In the space between wonder and wander, I frequently find myself lost in thoughts. I’m wonderstruck a lot.
It doesn’t take much prompting for me to begin my wonder. It happened this past summer by a simple data request from the Davis United World College (UWC) Scholars Program Office. Since Luther was accepted into the program in 2004, I have had the pleasure of serving as the college’s Davis UWC Scholars contact and, in the process, have been involved in the lives of over 300 Luther Davis United World College Scholars. These students, and this program, have enriched my life—but more than that, they’ve enriched the life of this college.
The Davis United World College Scholars program, begun in 2000, has grown into the largest international undergraduate scholarship program in the world, with over 10,000 alumni. Luther became a partner college in 2004 and enrolled our first two scholars—from Malaysia and Bolivia—in 2005. Since that time, 192 Luther Davis UWC Scholars have graduated from Luther. And with the current group of 113 scholars on campus, our 15th year of the program marks over 300 scholars.
The program is the brainchild of philanthropist Shelby Davis and educationalist Philip Geier. Their act of wonder was one in which bright high school students from across the globe would be provided with the educational tools, pathways, and funding to make possible a college education and, in the process, help shape a better world. They created a marvelous bridge between students attending one of the 18 United World Colleges in the world (rigorous, globally focused, preparatory high schools located in 18 different countries) and selected colleges and universities in the US. Luther is one of their current 99 college and university partners. Their wise program vision is now enacted every day through the lives of thousands of college students—over 3,400 currently enrolled—whose very education makes possible the promise of a better world.
In addition to the sheer number of Luther Davis UWC Scholar alumni, Luther has received a cumulative total of over $16.8 million in Davis UWC Scholarship support. Luther students have also received almost $200,000 more in peace project support through the Davis Projects for Peace. This scholarship support through the Davis UWC Scholars Program has—literally—changed the educational and career trajectories of hundreds of students at Luther. And it has changed Luther, too. What a marvelous gift.
At Luther, the Davis UWC Scholars are but one part of a larger group of equally talented international students from educational institutions around the world. Although this article lifts up the stories of a segment of our international students, I’m incredibly proud of and moved by the accomplishments of all of our international students. It takes great courage to throw yourself into college-level study in a new culture, country, and context. And so the story of our Davis UWC Scholars is but one part of the larger Luther international student story.
In summer 2019, the Center for Global Learning reached out to Luther’s Davis UWC Scholar alumni through an online survey. We wanted to know a bit more about what our Luther Davis UWC Scholars did while here . . . and gain glimpses into their lives once they had moved on.
What follows is, in part, their story—told through charts, tables, and graphs. It’s also animated by interviews with a few of the alumni, narrated through the skilled voice of Ismail Hamid ’19, himself a Luther Davis UWC Scholar who now serves as the recent graduate intern in the Luther Center for Global Learning. He, too, likes to wonder.
Jon Lund serves as the executive director of the Center for Global Learning and International Admissions. As the Luther administrator who both oversees all of the college’s off-campus programs and manages the college’s admissions and scholarship processes for international students, he gets around. He feels badly about his carbon footprint but also knows Luther is a stronger institution because of our global connections. He tracks his annual flight miles to account for his carbon emissions and calculates that since 2007, he’s traveled the equivalent of two trips to the moon and back (239,000 miles each way) or almost 38 times around the world (25,000 miles per lap). Nobody should doubt Luther’s commitment to being globally connected!
Wandering into a Larger World
Last year at this time, as I was counting my days until graduation from Luther, I knew I was ready to graduate but was not yet quite ready to leave. I felt both comfortable and welcome here—at Luther and in Decorah—and was not yet fully eager to step out into the larger world. So when the opportunity presented itself to work at Luther as the intern in the Center for Global Learning, I happily accepted the new role.
I didn’t realize at the time—but certainly recognize now—that working at the Center for Global Learning would allow me daily to continue to wander out into the larger world. As part of my job, I advise students who want to study away on domestic and international programs. Every day I get to introduce students to different study-away options in Nottingham, Malta, Münster, and Rochester; to J-Term programs spanning virtually all continents; to nearly 2,000 programs through our partner providers around the world. Every day, I get to see students’ eyes light up with wonder as we figure out together where in the world they might want to wander.
The second part of my job allows me to assist in different aspects of the international admissions process. As an international student and a Davis UWC Scholar, I feel that this part of the job is deeply personal, as I fundamentally believe that the presence of international students enriches the Luther community and brings diverse and valuable perspectives that would otherwise be absent from important discussions on campus. I also know that the work we do at Luther changes lives. It provides international students with the opportunity to get a top-notch education in an environment that fosters personal growth and equips students with the tools they need to make a difference in their communities and around the world.
When I started reading the stories of Davis UWC Scholars collected this summer, I was struck by the impact these alumni are having all over the world. From Amalia Awala ’18, who is researching epilepsy at the University of Cape Town, to Braulio Dumba ’11, who upon completion of his PhD in computer science accepted a position at IBM Research in Yorktown Heights, N.Y., to Prometheu Tyagi ’15, who returned to India to offer his marketing and branding skills to a social enterprise focused on empowering rural and non-formally educated women. The impacts that Davis Scholars have on the world are just as diverse as the places they come from.
I was also struck by the fact that gratitude was a common theme. They were thankful for the friends they made here. They were thankful for the memories, both good and bad, that made them stronger. They were not always thankful for the winter . . . and that is okay. They were thankful to the people who made it all possible—Luther College, the Davis UWC Scholars Program, the numerous offices on campus, and the larger Decorah community. They were thankful for the opportunity to learn at Luther, and for the doors it opened up for them.
As I reflect now on my next journey, I’m still not quite yet ready to leave. But I know I need to go. The stories from our Davis UWC Scholars remind me that there’s a much larger world to encounter. And their stories motivate me to wander more boldly into it.
—Ismail Hamid '19
Ismail Hamid ’19 works as the Luther Center for Global Learning intern. In May 2019 he graduated from Luther with majors in political science and international studies. His journey to Luther began in the Maldives, continued at the UWC Atlantic College in Wales, and eventually brought him to Decorah. The son of a taxi driver in the Maldives, he shares his father’s passion for journeys. After his one-year position at Luther, he plans to continue his education as he pursues a master’s degree in international education. And his dream job? To return to Luther College, where he can continue to assist students as they move into a larger world.
That I could change the world
Bernarda Kaculete ’17 always knew she wanted to make an impact in her home country of Angola. The middle child of five siblings, Bernarda was raised by parents who instilled a strong sense of purpose and placed great value on her education. She recognized early on that one of the best ways for her to make a lasting impact was through education. She was often the top student in her classes and, from a young age, was motivated to learn actively. It was not by accident that her school in Angola identified her as a worthy applicant for the United World College program.
Bernarda says she was born on the coldest day of the year in Angola. Perhaps this explains her affinity for cold weather? Whatever the reason, she was thrilled to be accepted to the UWC Red Cross Nordic in Flekke, situated in the beautiful fjord region of western Norway. After completing the International Baccalaureate degree, Luther was her natural next step. She wanted to be in a place where she could continue to enjoy the warmth of the Norwegian culture she had come to love—and she wanted to be somewhere cold. Luther fit the bill. Her first memory of the college? The view from Highway 52 as it descends into the valley, opening up the iconic vista of campus and Decorah. She knew immediately she could make a home here.
At Luther, she quickly made a home and, more importantly, started to make an impact. She was a member of Student Senate and volunteered with Habitat for Humanity. In spring 2015, she participated in Semester at Sea, also made possible by Shelby Davis, and shed a tear upon meeting him aboard ship. “Mr. Davis, without knowing me, believed I could do a lot—that I could change the world,” she says. She returned to Luther and in 2017 became the president of Beta Theta Omega, an organization that seeks to empower the next generation of female leaders on campus. In reflecting on her journey, Bernarda says, “UWC provided me with the passion to make change; Luther provided me with the tools necessary to make those changes.”
After graduating from Luther with a major in international studies and a minor in management, Bernarda decided to return home. She accepted a position teaching business management at a high school in the capital of Luanda. She uses her position as an opportunity to teach students about ethics, especially as applied to business—a component that’s often missing in the Angolan curriculum. She credits her experiences at both the UWC Red Cross Nordic and at Luther for helping her appreciate ethics as an important component of educating the next generation of leaders.
To be sure, Luanda may be a few degrees warmer than either Flekke or Decorah. Nonetheless, Bernarda is grateful to return home, where she hopes to make a difference.
Big parking lots . . . and even bigger dreams
Imsouchivy Suos ’15, who goes by G.V., has a very big name to live up to. Derived from Sanskrit and Pali, Souchivy means life is perseverance. True to his name, G.V. has exemplified what it means to live life fully and persevere through challenge. Perhaps his biggest challenges lie ahead in his role as a young, promising trade diplomat with the Cambodian Ministry of Commerce, where G.V. is involved in the negotiation of various free-trade agreements within the ASEAN countries. When signed, agreements such as the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) will create the biggest trade bloc in the world.
Prior to his arrival at Li Po Chun United World College in Hong Kong—an experience that literally changed the trajectory of his life—G.V. had minimal experiences outside Cambodia. Although he was a top student in Cambodia, his English language abilities were limited. At the UWC, he was thrust into the rigorous International Baccalaureate program, which was mostly taught in English. This was truly a sink-or-swim experience—and he rose to the challenge and persevered.
For many international students, the thought of attending a small liberal arts college in the Upper Midwest is not necessarily top of mind. But G.V. felt drawn to Luther because of the quality of education, strength of community, and the generous financial support offered through Luther and the Davis United World College Scholars Program. He still remembers his first drive to campus and waking up early the next morning to take it all in. “It was beautiful—and I had never seen parking lots that big in my life,” he says. G.V. thrived at the college, becoming the first Cambodian to complete his studies here.
It’s impossible to write of G.V.’s involvement and impact at Luther without a sense of list-making. While at Luther, he majored in management and economics, served as a resident assistant in Ylvisaker, and then became the assistant hall director in Farwell. He was selected as a Peace Scholar and did a summer-long intensive peace studies program at the Nansen Center in Lillehammer and the University of Oslo, Norway. Additionally, he worked at Luther’s Photo Bureau, where he put his observant eyes to good use and displayed his street and travel photography widely across campus. He also co-led a few student organizations, hosted a weekly KWLC radio show, and managed to squeeze in a semester study-away experience on Luther’s Malta Program.
G.V. firmly believes in the mantra Learn, earn, and return, which he first learned from Mr. Shelby Davis. Armed with the knowledge and experiences from the UWC and Luther, he is engaged in the world. He has now visited 61 countries and regularly mentors young leaders while representing Cambodia at major global leadership summits. He has also worked as a global youth consultant for the United Nations Security Council Resolution 2250, as well as on promoting sustainable development goals in Cambodia. G.V.’s experiences already demonstrate a life focused on leading courageously. He has truly made his name a big one to live up to.
Seeing truth from somebody else’s eyes
Few students at Luther have had such a strong impact on fellow students’ lives in such a short period of time as Alison Blake ’11. Alison assumed the position of manager of student accounts in April 2018, a position in which she works closely with students on everything from tuition and fee payments to scholarship tax implications to budgeting. Although soft-spoken and kind, no one doubts Alison’s determination to boldly do well by students. She loves the challenge of looking at financial issues through a fresh set of eyes and is willing to help institute change as needed. She is driven by a strong sense of purpose and sees it as her mission “to make it possible for students from all backgrounds to stay and be successful at Luther.”
Alison’s journey to Luther started in Montezuma, New Mexico, at the UWC-USA. Coming from the small Iowa town of Dorchester, Alison was hungry to see the world through a fresh set of lenses. She describes waking up the first morning in New Mexico only to hear her Israeli roommate speaking Hebrew with her family, and she vividly remembers the first meal she shared with other students from all over the world. The opportunity to interact with a global student body left a profound impression on Alison. Reflecting on it now she says, “UWC allowed us to see our truth from somebody else’s eyes.”
After a college search encompassing a number of Davis United World College Scholars Program campuses across the country, Alison’s global wandering led her to Luther, only 25 miles from where she began. With majors in art history and French, Alison used Luther’s strong study-abroad culture to further broaden her horizons by completing a yearlong program in Nantes, France. Not only did she get to hone her French-language skills, but she also fueled her artistic passions. In France, she was able to study famous paintings in class and then actually view the works of art later that day. Upon graduation, she worked in a variety of jobs related to business and management, which ultimately led her to pursue a master’s degree in business administration from the University of Colorado.
For Alison, the decision to return to Luther for employment felt like, and indeed is, a matter of coming home. In many ways, the work she does at Luther is a natural extension of the vision embodied by Shelby Davis and Philip Geier with the establishment of the Davis UWC Scholars Program. Both program founders—and Alison—recognize the power of education to shape a more equitable, just, globally connected, and sustainable future. Alison touches lives by living purposefully—and in the process, she assists Luther’s Davis UWC Scholars as they fulfill their dreams.