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Campus Hosts International Alumni as Part of New IPDS Colombia Exchange

Campus Hosts International Alumni as Part of New IPDS Colombia Exchange

Posted: October 10, 2019

Growing up in California with a Colombian mother and a Filipino father, Alysa Perreras, ’19, had no idea where Buffalo was, or what the city offered. She knew, however, that at some point after earning a bachelor’s degree in journalism, she’d end up in Colombia, exploring her ancestral homeland. That’s how she wound up working as a social justice and equity coach at the Columbus School in Medellín, and that’s how she became connected to Buffalo State.

“I don’t think I could have placed it,” she said, referring to the city. “My first ‘Where is Buffalo?’ moment was when I started my master’s program at Buff State.”

Despite having never been on campus, Perreras earned her master’s degree from Buffalo State in August through the International Graduate Programs for Educators, visiting the campus for the first time at the end of September.

IGPE provides a specialized degree program for educators through its connections to American and international schools. Through her employment at the Columbus School, Perreras was able to earn her degree via online courses and visits from Buffalo State faculty to Medellín.

IGPE administrators and educators at the host school work with Buffalo State to choose the curriculum and tailor it to the needs of the students partaking in the program. Graduating participants come away with a master of science in multidisciplinary studies. The program is designed for students whose educational needs are not being met by traditional master’s degree programs.

Course offerings include Instructional Strategies for More Effective Teaching, Principles of Curriculum Design, Creative Problem Solving, and Instructional Technologies.

Perreras was one of four educators to visit the campus from Colombia September 25–October 5. Three were teachers, graduates of IGPE, while the fourth was a program leader at the Columbus School. The timing of their trip coincided with Buffalo State’s Professional Development Schools (PDS) Retreat, where the visitors participated and presented, and the Anne Frank Project’s 11th annual Social Justice Festival, which they also attended. 

The visit was co-sponsored by IGPE and the International Professional Development Schools Consortium, which has a new exchange program with Colombia.

Michael Lovorn, director of IGPE, said the visit was a great example of cooperation on campus between the two programs. 

“This IGPE/IPDS enterprise is a triumph of forward-thinking, cross-departmental collaboration,” he said. “It’s an immediate example of what we can accomplish when we think boldly and creatively about just how much we can contribute to making the world a better place.”

Lovorn also touted the campus, calling the visit a “great success.”

“We have a warm and welcoming campus community, and of course we’re proud to open it to friends from diverse backgrounds,” he said. “These teachers from Medellín helped us blaze a trail of professional and intercultural exchange. Our campus representatives will follow their example by visiting Colombia in a few months. Fantastic opportunities for everyone involved, and I know we’re all glad to be a part of it.”

For Perreras, the visit was a valuable experience. 

“It’s evident that in Buffalo, people don’t just talk the talk, they walk the walk,” Perreras said. “We’ve had many experiences, whether that was here meeting with Buffalo State professors, or local school visits, or auditing some classes here. The thing that I am walking away with is, I have so many immediate next steps and strategies for me to apply to my role and the work that I do.”

Brandon F. Kawa, associate director of IGPE, said that interactions with the program’s students can sometimes seem impersonal, as they are often conducted over the phone or by e-mail.

“To be able to connect with them in person, in pursuit of deeper professional development goals, is really special,” Kawa said. “We’ve set goals to have more of our graduates visit Buffalo State and to work toward engaging our alumni more, and this opportunity has set us in the right direction.”

Picio Muñoz, a kindergarten teacher at the Columbus School who received her master’s degree from Buffalo State through IGPE in 2013, was excited to finally see her alma mater.

“It’s been amazing,” she said. “Knowing all these people from Buffalo has been so nice. The city is beautiful. Being able to see your architecture and getting to know your people—they’re the nicest people in the world.”

Muñoz said her group from Colombia was busy, but that the schedule was set up with their needs in mind, with time built in for fun.

“We’ve been to Niagara Falls, Ellicottville, an architecture tour,” she said. “The food everywhere has been excellent.”

Kawa said the visitors were able to learn from experiences different from their own while on the trip.

“They visited local Buffalo public schools to observe classrooms and interact with teachers and students,” he said. “They attended some of our graduate courses here at Buffalo State and made connections with professors that could potentially lead to future collaborations.”

The success of the visit is an indication that the IGPE program is moving in the right direction, Kawa said. 

“We feel that broadening our connections and collaborating with other programs here on campus can give us great opportunities to further engage our alumni and connect with them even after they’ve graduated,” he said. 

Alejondra Villa, a second-grade teacher from the Columbus School who earned her master’s degree through IGPE in 2016, was unable to pick her favorite activity from the trip.

“I need to be honest,” she said. “I enjoyed every little moment.”

Pictured, from left: Alejondra Villa, Picio Muñoz, Carolina Zuluaga, Alysa Pererras

Photo by Bruce Fox, Campus Photographer

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