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Diversity & Inclusion
October 26, 2020

International Freshmen Complete First Semester in Learning Communities

International Learning Community class

Dozens of St. Francis College freshmen are completing their first-semester courses from their homes around the globe, thanks to the novel Learning Communities program the College introduced this year.

"The COVID pandemic required us to re-imagine how we deliver education not only to students from New York City but to the many foreign students we typically welcome as freshmen on campus each year," said Bora Dimitrov '16, Manager of SFC International. "New visa restrictions and the potential risks of long-distance travel posed unique challenges to that part of our student population, and most stayed in their home countries. Learning Communities proved to be a solution for them."

St. Francis College hosts three Learning Communities for its 49 international freshmen residing abroad, the largest of which has 26 students enrolled. Within each Learning Community, students take three online courses together: a freshmen seminar -- Dimitrov instructs one -- a writing course and either a history, political science or fine arts course. Learning community students each choose an additional two online courses from those available to the general student body.

Miguel Martinez-Saenz, Ph.D., President of St. Francis College and Reza Fakhari, Ph.D., SFC Vice President for Internationalization and Strategic Initiatives, are among the faculty instructing within Learning Communities this fall. They co-teach a Politics course for a Learning Community with 17 students.

"My Learning Community experience has been extraordinary. It's such an intimate, personalized environment in which students from around the globe tackle challenging coursework together online and through weekly live Zoom class sessions," said Dr. Fakhari who, in addition to his role at SFC, was recently elected Chair of Amnesty International USA. "The integrated set up in the Learning Community creates camaraderie among students, closeness with the faculty who teach them, and deeper learning. It has been highly rewarding for President Martinez-Saenz and me to co-teach such a motivated group of international students and student-athletes."

SFC's international freshmen come from at least twenty-three countries, including Brazil, Serbia, Spain, Trinidad & Tobago, and Uzbekistan. St. Francis College grouped students into Learning Communities based on geography – to keep time-zones consistent -- and students' areas of academic interest.

"The whole experience has been a full package for me," said Maria Tarre, a Learning Community student living in Niterói, a small town in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. "I had already been enrolled in college in Brazil and it was in-person classes, but I have never felt so embraced and part of a community as I feel right now....The best thing about this year's SFC Learning Community is the opportunity of having an international freshman group, in which all students are undergoing the same situation: studying in an American college but living in their hometown."

In August, SFC invited all its international freshmen to enroll in Summer Jumpstart, a three-week program that introduced students to the technology SFC uses in online instruction and allowed them to earn academic credits by completing an online public-speaking course.

Within the past two years, St. Francis College established SFC International, a department that works on enrolling more foreign students, developing opportunities for U.S. students to study abroad, cementing relationships with foreign institutions and organizations, and enriching the academic curriculum and co-curriculum to help students understand their roles as global citizens.

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