Few problems can be solved in isolation, says Karen Strawser de Bartolomé, who as executive director of the Rocky Mountain Center of the Institute of International Education (IIE), does her share to help “make the world a smaller place.” IIE was founded after World War I by three Nobel Peace Prize winners who wanted to strengthen ties between education in the United States and abroad and address local and global challenges.
A key opportunity to enlarge her own sense of the world arose when de Bartolomé was chosen mid-career to be a White House Fellow. As a fellow, she traveled to Geneva, Switzerland, with U.S. Trade Representative Clayton Yeutter to participate in the first conversations about China joining the World Trade Organization. She also engaged in numerous discussions with the Japanese trade ministry. Working one-on-one with high ranking government officials helped her better understand the United States and its place in the global community.
Today, de Bartolomé is eager to help send young people to study abroad because, she says, “forming a sense of yourself without a sense of the rest of the world is handicapping yourself.”
American asked de Bartolomé how she brings a sense of the global community to a local community.
Q. How do you promote cultural exchange in Denver, a cosmopolitan city, but not a traditional international hub?
A. The things that make us human are the things that help us connect. Global understanding can happen in the most intimate of settings, even over a shared meal. This is where the magic happens. During conversations like, ‘Do Americans really believe that?’ or ‘Do you really do that in Pakistan?’ It’s personal, direct; you can have an impact. What I’m talking about [can] not be done in volume; it’s one conversation, one cup of coffee at a time.
Q. How do you make “international” accessible to the Denver community?
A. I coordinate the Denver World Affairs Council, a global affairs speaker series that’s hosted ambassadors from China, India, Pakistan, Egypt, Brazil, and other countries. Madeleine Albright, Robin Wright, Dennis Ross, and Reza Aslan have also spoken here, reaching many in the area with their messages. I facilitate the International Visitor Leadership Program, a professional exchange that has brought together domestic and international leaders, such as Sharia court judges from Afghanistan, a food safety expert from Japan, the chief inspector of Scotland Yard, Hamid Karzai’s press secretary, a Buddhist monk from Cambodia, and the mayor of Jerusalem.
Q. Does your work help send Denver residents abroad?
A. We administer the Fulbright scholar programs for Colorado and 15 surrounding states and work with private companies to create IIE scholarships. Those scholarships send domestic and international students abroad to act as ‘ambassadors.’ [They can then] use their experiences to benefit the community. For example, thanks to her Fulbright English teaching experiences in Jordan, Emily Hagemeister now works at the Council of American Overseas Research Centers’ Critical Language Scholarship Program. There she helps create opportunities for young Americans to learn Arabic and other critical languages. And Jeremiah Hulsebos-Spofford has taught in Chicago’s only public art high school as a result of his Fulbright experience in Italy.