Dr. Celeste Gaia, Director of International Education at Emory & Henry College since 2007, is Emory & Henry College’s master-mind behind the now popular “Pathway Project”.
She received her Ph.D. in Experimental Psychology from the University of Tennessee and her academic work and body of professional publications are substantial. She is highly respected among her peers, colleagues, students and others within the academic community.
As the Director of International Education and a strong advocate for global citizenship education and cultural exchange, she is the college’s strongest advocate for study abroad programs. Also, she is the campus liaison for international students.
I first met Dr. Gaia in 2012. Several of Dr. Gaia’s students had just returned from their study abroad assignments and were the dinner guest speakers at an Emory & Henry College Board affair, describing their very positive international educational experiences. I was struck by the excitement and enthusiasm the students expressed as each student shared their life-changing experience while abroad.
WOW! During that dinner presentation…the thought/vision struck me! If “we” could bring Copey students to Emory & Henry College, perhaps they also would return home to Costa Rica with life-changing experiences.
In 2013, I discussed in detail my vision with Dr. Gaia. She agreed to partner with me in an effort to develop such an opporunity for the Copey students.
Necessary authorizations/permissions, room and board, course tuition, hosts, local travel, and other logistical arrangements where needed to host Copey students and chaperones on the E&H campus. Dr. Gaia spearheaded this effort requiring much dedicated time and attention.
My challenges were a little different. I had to help Angela, the Copey Learning Center Director, sell the idea to the Copey community. Culturally, this is not typically a familiar proposition. Getting permission from parents to allow their students to travel to America to unknown destinations and be in the care of unknown “friends” would not be an easy task.
Also, there was the small issue of funds needed to support the transportation costs to America and back to Copey. I had to launch a fundraiser and we successfully raised the funds to cover the costs.
In June 2016, the first two Copey students arrived in the USA as our guests to spend approximately two weeks on campus.
Thanks to Dr. Gaia, there is more to the story.
While establishing the “pathway” for Copey students to visit the E&H College campus, Dr. Gaia went a step further. She also established a process for E&H students to travel to Copey for a four or five week volunteer assignment. The E&H students to make the first journey were Xavier and Casey…very special students!
Today in 2019, nine Copey students plus chaperones have journeyed to the E&H College campus and seven E&H students have served as volunteers in Copey.
Kara Stewart, the 2018 E&H “Pathway Project” student, wrote these words on her final day in Copey before returning back to the USA: “This is so bittersweet for me because I miss my friends and family like crazy, but boy I wish you all could just come here. This place [Copey] is truly incredible.” Today, the “Pathway Project” is a truly amazing success story.
Without question, Dr. Gaia is a real “Key Friend” of Copey! In only four years, sixteen students have had life-changing experiences similar to the Copey experience Kara describes…largely due to the willingness and determination of one “Key Friend” who saw the vision and agreed to help.
Dr. Gaia…you are a Key Friend who “makes a difference”.