ciee - council on international educational exchange

Participant Bloggers

What can your story be in the United States?

4 posts categorized "Diana Pauna"



Having been based at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor that is ranked among the top college towns in the US, I felt keen on exploring more by going to universities beyond the borders of Michigan. I set my plan for two study trips combined with special events to be attended and choosing one private and one public university. In the Fall Semester I visited Yale University in New Haven, CT and in the Spring Semester I visited the University of Kentucky in Lexington, KY.

  Yale University_all downtown buildings

Yale University buildings in downtown New Haven, CT

In July I participated in hosting a group of Yale alumni visit in Riga. Further, I was invited to attend the annual Yale Alumni Leadership Forum in 20-23 November 2013, when winds blew cold as a premonition of winter, but I experienced warm welcome in New Haven, known as Elm City. Walking among the campus buildings, I could see the architecture that makes up the residential colleges of Yale with their sheltering quadrangles as a key ingredient in shaping a university experience that creates the lifelong loyalty of alumni. Indeed, Yale has a unique approach in cultivating the alumni connection through a variety of programs, including Bulldogs Across America (BAA), Shared interest groups (SIGs), Students and Alumni of Yale (STAY), Yale Alumni Service Corps, Yale Day of Service, Yale Educational Travel, Yale Global Alumni Leadership Exchange (YaleGALE). Having learned about all the programs offered by the Association of Yale Alumni (AYA), I feel I have equipped myself with new ideas that I am happy to share with colleagues back at home as well implement a few new projects working with the SSE Riga Alumni Association, especially turning fundraising more towards friends-raising that is a Yale approach.

Yale_Old Campus

Yale University Old campus

  YaleGale seminar_gate to old campus

Entering the Old campus

Based on previous connections through a Fulbright professor Glenn Blomquist teaching at SSE Riga, I was invited to attend the 19th Annual Economics Teaching Workshop at the University of Kentucky on 28-29 March 2014. It was interesting to learn about the importance of experiments, games, graphics, photography, and interactive definitions and role plays in teaching microeconomics and macroeconomics. With 80 participants from approximately 20 universities, the discussions during the reception, breakfast and lunch gave opportunities to exchange ideas about teaching the new digital generation as well as broaden the network. I hope we can organize a similar seminar at SSE Riga, because economists typically organize research seminars on specific topics, but not on teaching economics. I took an opportunity to meet the faculty members who teach entrepreneurship, visit the Von Allmen Center for Entrepreneurship as well as have meetings with the Innovation Network for Entrepreneurial Thinking (iNET) team. Finally, I had to decide on taking ‘the right’ side when the University of Kentucky Wildcats with 75-72 won over the University of Michigan Wolverines in basketball. 


Gatton College of Business and Economics, University of Kentucky




I find myself surrounded by entrepreneurial people, and my experiences range from meeting a taxi driver of a new cab company to the fathers of the iPod. Americans are said to be great entrepreneurs, and Europeans are coming over to the US to look at their experiences. I want to explore what makes Americans more entrepreneurial than Europeans; and a combination of being a regular resident for nearly a year and my role of a researcher allows me to grasp different angles of entrepreneurship and entrepreneurial mindsets. The spirit of doing, a lot of energy and enthusiasm charges growth and development that I encounter every day. Below I share three mini-stories that I find characteristic of a trend.

Start small

When arriving in Ann Arbor by Michigan Flier from Detroit, I had to call for a cab to get to the hotel; I called one from the list named Across Town. Having reached the destination, the driver gave me his business card in case I needed any service in the future, mentioning that to plan his work it would be good if I called in advance, because they were two friends who had just started their business with only two cars. There are numerous taxi service providers, however, their service of bringing kids to schools and kindergartens in the morning and providing late evening services clearly secure a niche for taxi service Across Town have established.   



Ann Arbor Cooks

Pursue your dream

In the same spirit of doing and not being afraid of a career change is the story of Natalie Marble whom I met when visiting Ann Arbor Cooks. In 2001 Natalie left a career in international finance to follow her life-long culinary dreams. Now she is a chef and owner of Ann Arbor Cooks. Having participated in the hands-on culinary class, I have experienced Natalie’s passion for teaching, the scope of activity including cooking classes, team-building events, private events, etc. When I looked at their calendar, I could hardly identify a free spot, because all dates were booked three to four months ahead. Natalie has created a place where people want to be on different occasions, and one can feel that as soon as you enter the school.



Taking a cooking class

You never learn unless you try

Tony Fadell’s story that I heard when attending the M-Cubed Symposium provides a number of lessons of how to become a successful entrepreneur. I find the title of his presentation very strong, i.e. “Stem Education” where he refers to his grandfather and the importance of hands-on practical skills, starting early, learning by doing and being curious.  Next, during his studies at the University of Michigan he started two companies and learned to build and fail. After graduation he wanted to work out all to perfection, however, he learnt that you should pick a day when the product was ready.

Anthony Michael Fadell is "one of the fathers of the iPod"; in 2010 he founded Nest Labs, and in January 2014 Google acquired Nest for for $3.2B.


From a Writing Slate to the Node Chair

It reminds me of a writing slate my grandfather used to practice writing. The Verb whiteboard supplied with a table dock is small enough for personal use and large enough to share and work with a team. It is just one of the items which help in creating active learning environment that I have seen and tried out myself when visiting Steelcase at their global headquarters in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The people I met and the day I spent there have provided me with insights on exemplary corporate culture and contemporary learning environments.


 An insight into one of the learning spaces at the Steelcase University

Blurring the boundaries between the academic and corporate world is something that I have become interested in. Representing a generation that was trained in a traditional classroom, I find it fascinating to observe how new learning environments are being designed through joint projects, university case-studies and communication between university staff, faculty, students, designers and researchers. On the one hand, Steelcase employs a team of researchers and designers who work with potential clients and explore their needs in contemporary office and learning space furniture and furnishings while Steelcase University provides formal and informal learning spaces, nine high-tech classrooms, various breakout and touchdown spaces, a Discovery Learning Center, a Distance Learning Center, practice installation labs, a café and a special area for staff. Having tried out a number of chairs, desks, and tables, I assume students and faculty would both enjoy the Node chair designated for easy transitions from one teaching mode to the next with a tripod base for backpacks.


 Dr. Scott-Webber demonstrating the Node chair

 Universities, on the other hand, benefit from maximizing the synergies with the corporate world in accommodating the needs of more engaging pedagogy and active learning. I met Lennie Scott-Webber, PhD, Director of Education Environments Globally at Steelcase who shared their experience on collaboration with universities. I got hold of a journal on "Active Learning Spaces" and a copy of the latest "360 degrees The New I.Q.Amplify Your Innovation Quotient"; both publications can be downloaded from the Steelcase website. This visit has been an eye-opener on how much could be achieved through trying a variety of furniture setups to create ideal classroom configuration. At the same time, being at the Stephen M. Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan I can experience how engaging students in action-based learning is achieved through taking a fresh approach to their classrooms, implementing a strategy that includes engagement, collaboration and flexibility.


 Enjoying the working environment at the Steelcase University


A2 = U-M3

Let me involve you in deciphering the above equation:

 Ann Arbor = A2 and

University of Michigan, Michigan Stadium and Michigan Wolverines = U-M3

 that characterize the lifestyle here that has become my home for 11 months. As a university town or college town as Americans call them, it is a great place to study, work and live, and according to America’s 20 most economically vibrant college towns, Ann Arbor is ranked second in The Atlantic by Richard Florida, an American urban studies theorist and best known for his concept of creative class. In line with his theory of creative class, and indeed, the University of Michigan, a public university with 43, 426 student enrollment, offering 247 bachelor’s, 87 master's, and 34 graduate-level certificate and 108 PhD programs is a melting pot with people generating ideas and creating new opportunities in arts, business, education, engineering, information technologies, medicine and sports. Thus it is perfectly in line with mens sana in corpore sano or a healthy mind in a healthy body, and the university sports facilities across the town with the Michigan Stadium and Michigan Wolverines have become strong trademarks for A2.     

  Big House

The main entrance to the Michigan Stadium

 On a Saturday afternoon sitting in the Michigan Stadium among 109,901 spectators and watching the football game along with others, I cheer the Michigan Wolverines team “Let’s go blue”. Before the game I went to the M-Den to buy a cap in blue and maize colors and letter “M”, and a raincoat with “M”. I point to the colors, because they are important when it comes to states, universities and sports. The town changes completely during the game weekend on ‘Game Day’ that happens every other Saturday during the season with hundreds of cars coming into town and tailgating – an American tradition interesting to see and experience with having a social event near an open tailgate of a car with food and beverages typically on a parking lot nearby the Big House as the stadium is called here. The Michigan spirit is felt all over the town, and it is a great event for families to come and combine the game with visiting those who study at the University of Michigan, and the annual university homecoming is also linked to the football Saturday. On October 5, 2013 it was the 113th homecoming game in Ann Arbor, and it was the 33rd time U-M hosted Minnesota on homecoming, the most of any opponent.


Whether it is sunshine, rain or snow, the Big House is full.

 The University of Michigan and the Michigan Stadium go together as they symbolize the pride, tradition and excellence of the University of Michigan, and I feel I have already become part of the U-M crowd.