During her four years at Rider, Sayira Santana ’11 has gained an impressive international background, including a recent trip to the Negev Desert.
Meaghan Haugh

Sayira Santana ’11 in the Negev Desert in Israel

How did one conversation lead a prospective Princeton University student down the road to Rider University and eventually to the Negev Desert in Israel?

Sayira Santana ’11 had narrowed her list down to a handful of schools, including Princeton University. However, Santana realized that Princeton was not the right fit for her when she visited its campus. During her college search, Santana had a conversation with Dr. Jonathan Mendilow, a professor of Political Science at Rider University, who suggested that she consider Rider.

“I wanted an institution that would have a student teacher ratio that would accommodate my research and academic progress. I found Rider offered exactly what I was looking for,” said Santana, who was interested in studying politics and international relations. “By visiting Rider, I was able to see that this was a place where I would be able to uphold my own dreams and aspirations.”

Now a senior Political Science and Global Multinational Studies dual major at Rider, Santana couldn’t have been happier with her decision. Through Mendilow’s guidance and by taking advantage of the services offered by the Center for International Education, Santana has been able to build an impressive résumé that will enable her to stand out as she pursues a diplomatic career as a U.S. Foreign Services Officer in the Middle East.

As a freshman, Santana attended one of the Center for International Education’s study abroad fairs, where she learned about an opportunity to study at the London School of Economics through the Institute for Study Abroad of Butler University during the summer preceding her sophomore year.

That experience was so rewarding that Santana realized that she wanted to intern abroad in London during the spring semester of her sophomore year. Santana said the Center for International Education recommended the CAPA program in London, which allowed her to complete academic credits along with an internship with the Commonwealth Lawyers Association in London. As the assistant to the secretary general of the Commonwealth, Santana wrote minutes at meetings and helped design publications.

“I was able to meet a lot of legislators and UN Ambassadors. I also realized that I wanted to specialize in Middle Eastern affairs,” Santana said. “I was recently given the opportunity to travel to the Middle East to explore, what I believe to be, the center of today’s foreign policy.”

Santana said a family friend, who attended the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, had recommended that Santana consider its Rothenberg International Institute for students interested in Middle Eastern Study. Then, Santana explored her options with Rider’s Center for International Education, where she learned about the Coexistence in the Middle East Program.

Through the program this past summer, she took classes at Hebrew University and conducted field work about the Israeli-Palestine conflict with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. Under the guidance of a professor and two U.N. soldiers, Santana and nine other students conducted interviews with civilians and religious leaders from Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, West Bank, Gaza and Israel.

“We learned about the disconnect between government and people, who all wanted the same thing — stability,” said Santana, who she relied on the historic background that she gained in Mendilow’s POL-320 Politics of the Middle East. “One of the takeaways from this experience was that I was able to see and experience something without being told.”

This year, Santana, who also serves as vice president of internal affairs for the Latin American Student Organization and a Study Abroad Ambassador for the Center for International Education, is gaining experience in the local government, while she interns for the New Jersey State Treasury’s Budget Allocation office and for New Jersey Senator Tom Goodwin, NJ District 14.

“Sayira is an example of someone who has taken full advantage of Rider’s study abroad program, with her summer experience at the London School of Economics leading to her London internship and then the program for which she was accepted at Hebrew University,” said Dr. Linda Materna professor of Spanish and former director of the Center for International Education. “Sayira wisely has understood that study abroad is the opportunity of a lifetime and that it can open doors for jobs in ways no other single college experience can.”

To read more about Sayira’s recent trip to the Middle East, please visit her blog at http://america2jerusalem.blogspot.com.