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Inside Iowa State, a newspaper for faculty and staff, is published by the Office of University Relations.

September 10, 2004

Passion turns into dream job

by Barbara McBreen Ag Communications

Traveling is Shelley Taylor's passion but she never thought she'd find her dream job in Iowa. Now, after five years as the global programs coordinator in the College of Agriculture, she can't imagine doing anything else.

"There is no place I would not go," Taylor said. "I look back at all my international experiences and I'm still learning from those experiences."

Taylor said there are no typical days. Coordinating travel abroad programs for undergraduates, graduates and faculty involves scouting locations, recruiting students, buying tickets, orientation programming and lots of planning. The global agriculture program is second in the nation among colleges of agriculture in the number of students it sends abroad each year.

For Taylor, it's about more than "getting there." "She also hopes to interest students in study abroad programs because she has seen firsthand how travel can change their views. One experience in a Yucatan marketplace convinced her that she'd found the perfect career. At the marketplace a tall, blonde student was surrounded by shorter, darker-skinned people from the area.

"The older women wanted to touch her hair and I could see that it was an amazing moment for the student," Taylor said. "Number one, she was a minority but it also was clear they were fascinated with her and she was fascinated with them. As I watched that happen, I thought 'This is really worthwhile and I could spend my life doing this.'"

Taylor, who grew up in Boulder, Colo., knew she wanted to travel but never expected to land in Iowa. After graduating with a bachelor's degree in international affairs, she backpacked through Europe. The following winter she worked in a Colorado ski resort, where she met her future husband, who lived and farmed near Ames.

She moved to Ames in the fall of 1994 to work on a master's degree in anthropology. Her graduate research focused on cultural changes in Uzbekistan, a country that had recently gained its independence from the Soviet Union.

"I did my master's research in Uzbekistan and that is how I got to know about this office," Taylor said. "When I came back, like many study-abroad students, I wanted to do anything I could to promote the study abroad program, so I started working hourly."

The global agricultural program offers students the chance to travel around the world with peers and travel leaders, Taylor said. It also gives students the confidence to evaluate and solve problems.

"The second day I was in Uzbekistan, I was very sick and ended up having my appendix removed," Taylor said. "After that I knew there wasn't anything I couldn't do. That's the kind of confidence students gain from these experiences."

Taylor has several stories that students have brought back. One student stayed at a dairy farm in France, even though she didn't know the language well. Early in her stay, she was told to help a cow that was calving.

"She goes out into the field to pull a calf, she does it and then tells the farmer. He then tells her to get the calf and bring it to the barn. It's too slippery to carry, so she goes to the house, gets the car, puts the calf in the trunk and drives it back to the barn," Taylor said. "Most of us would have broken down into tears, but she just solved the problem. It was a bonding experience with the family."

One of the things Taylor learned from her travels is that people in all parts of the world are, for the most part, good people. It's a message students also bring home.

"In reality everyone wants a good life. People want their children to have a good education, they want to be happy and they want to live in peace. People share similar dreams and hopes around the world, and that is surprising for students who travel for the first time," Taylor said.

Students often comment on how generous people are throughout the world. Taylor said people invite ISU students into their homes, feed them and make sure they have a really positive experience.

"One student had traveled as a volunteer to help in an African village. As the group was leaving, the community gave them a truck full of gifts to take home. It was a humbling experience because those people had nothing but it was important for them to reciprocate and be good hosts," Taylor said.

The world changed after the Sept. 11 attacks. Taylor said it seemed to give students a greater interest in global affairs. Although the number of students participating in global agriculture programs fell the year following the Sept. 11 attacks, the numbers have increased steadily since. Before Sept. 11, 2001, about 200 students were enrolled in travel abroad programs. Last year the number increased to 250 students.

"In the fall of 2001, we had seven students scheduled to leave on study abroad trips in January and all of them canceled. There was definitely a short-term impact," Taylor said. "The following year, our numbers went down, partly because of Sept. 11 and partly because of the economy."

Spring 2005 marks the first time students will be able to travel to Morocco through Taylor's office. The country also is the first Muslim country College of Agriculture students have been able to travel to since Sept. 11, 2001.

Shelly Taylor

Shelly Taylor traveling abroad can change students' perspectives. Photo by Bob Elbert.