SPAN members reflect on 50 years at U

Photos of smiling participants in the Student Project for Amity among Nations sit on Professor Theofanis Stavrou’s file cabinet. A collection of theses written by SPANners after their time abroad rests on the bookshelf across from him.
Stavrou, executive director of SPAN for the past 31 years, said students rarely leave his office without him talking about SPAN, no matter what their original intent was.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the founding of SPAN as the first study-abroad program at the University and of the selection of SPANners for study abroad.
SPAN students earn 12 summer session credits for two months of working on a research topic of their choice while abroad. SPAN destinations change every year and have included Greece, Ghana, Germany, Cameroon and many other nations.
Students study their topics individually, not in classes, in the destination country.
In addition to writing a thesis upon return to the United States, prior to departure students undertake a year of intensive study in the language, culture and history of the country they visit.
Doug Soderburg, a SPANner to the nation of Truk Micronesia in 1974, emphasized the need for the year of preparation when he said, “In SPAN, especially in Truk, we were scattered among four different islands… fishing for sustenance as they did… That’s what’s totally unique about SPAN.”
Soderburg, an obstetrician who studied the use of Western medicine in Truk Micronesia, said he has noticed the countries SPAN chooses to visit have changed as the world has changed.
When SPAN began in 1946, shortly after the end of World War II, the first groups traveled on converted military ships to Sweden and England.
“We couldn’t go to Germany because Germany wasn’t open,” said Kenneth Norquist, a member of the first SPAN group to Sweden. Norquist is now a professor of history, humanities, philosophy and comparative religions at Cambridge Community College in Cambridge, Minn.
Norquist studied the Swedish-Russian trade agreement made in 1946 while he was abroad in 1947 and said of his SPAN exchange group, one of the first in the world after the war, “We were the darlings in Sweden.”
Norquist said he told his wife to come join him in Sweden after his two months with SPAN were done. He earned his master’s degree in history from the University of Stockholm in 1949.
SPAN affected faculty advisers such as Stavrou and even the greater University. Stavrou gives SPAN partial credit for his series of editions of the “Modern Greek Studies Yearbook” and for his position as a founding member of the University of Cyprus.
At the University level, Stavrou said, the study of Greek, Swahili and some Asian languages offered regularly at the University had their beginnings with SPAN.
Stavrou also noted SPAN’s effect on the world saying, “For example, in Morocco the Peace Corps was admitted to Morocco only after a SPAN group went there and they saw how constructively they worked.”
After 50 years of changing lives, “Structurally, (SPAN) really has changed very little,” Stavrou said. Stavrou calls this a testament to the program’s founders.
SPAN is, as when it began, a nonprofit organization. One of the biggest differences between then and today is that SPAN now has its own office in 107 Nicholson Hall.
In celebration of SPAN’s anniversary, past SPANners will be invited to a banquet to be held next spring. Also, Stavrou said he hopes SPAN will have a book written about its program and about its role in internationalizing education at the University and throughout Minnesota.
“We have 2,000 alumni, most of whom are distinguished. This is a remarkable story of survival and creativity,” Stavrou said.