COVINGTON, GA --Dr. Salli Vargis, the recipient of Georgia State University’s 2023 Faculty Award for Global Engagement – Teaching, Service and Outreach is first and foremost centered on helping her students and her fellow faculty members see the broader world.
From helping steer Perimeter College’s Model African Union through the decades with her husband, Perimeter History & Political Science chair George Vargis, to being a pioneer in creating virtual exchange opportunities and partnering with institutions overseas, Vargis loves to create international connections.
Those connections have borne fruit for both her students and for faculty interested in teaching abroad. Vargis’s commitment to international education will be honored during a special awards ceremony on Tuesday, Nov. 7 on Georgia State’s Atlanta Campus. She will be among several GSU faculty honored with international awards. The ceremony is part of the university’s International Education Week events.
Vargis is the current interim department chair of Business and associate chair of Business and Cultural and Behavioral Sciences (Newton) at Perimeter College. Her interest in international education, particularly highlighting her native country, India, sparked almost 40 years ago in 1984 when she was an assistant professor at Stella Maris College in Chennai, India. At Stella Maris, she helped facilitate teaching a group of U.S. students from St. Mary’s College in Indiana who were part of a study abroad program to India. She taught medieval history of India as part of the students’ semester-long study program and also functioned as a tour guide and host, introducing the students to the diversity of India.
That experience whetted her appetite for more international exchange. Years later, as a Perimeter College World History faculty member in the 1990s, Vargis would work with a team of Asia Council members of the University System of Georgia to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU). This MOU established an international exchange program with the Hyderabad (Sind) National Collegiate Board (12 institutions) in Mumbai, India.
Faculty from Georgia colleges went to shadow and learn from faculty in India and Indian faculty came to the U.S. as part of this exchange. One such exchange involved Perimeter English professor Marissa McNamara, Vargis said.
In 1996, Vargis became the resource person for the first USG faculty development program to India to encourage faculty in the state to start study abroad programs in Asia. She co-directed two more faculty programs to India for the USG. These programs were intended to get faculty interested in the academic study of the region, infusing the study of Asia into the curriculum for all USG colleges and schools.
Vargis served in the Asia Council of USG for years as a member and later served as chair. She is also a member of the Middle East Council. She has trained and accompanied students to Model African Union conferences and participated in Teaching Middle East Conferences.
When Board of Regents funding was no longer available for faculty workshops in international locations, she introduced a program that would bring faculty development concentrating on Asia at home. She was instrumental in founding the ‘Teaching Asia’ workshops that are now embedded in the USG Asia Council program. The workshop helps those who are not Asian Studies specialists to better incorporate Asian content, including studies from China, Japan, Southeast Asia, India and South Asia into their core curriculum.
Today the idea of ‘virtual exchange’ (VE) is part of the entire international education experience, as virtual exchange for students became more common during the pandemic. Vargis was one of the early adopters at Perimeter and the first Newton faculty member to teach in VE modality. She taught an Honors VE class, a comparative study of women in the U.S. and India with students at Stella Maris, India in Fall 2021.
While studying in a different country can be daunting for some students, a virtual exchange course does not present that barrier, she said.
“Students who participate in virtual exchange realize we are all basically the same,” Vargis said. ‘I’ve been fascinated about how our students pick up on the similarities and differences in their own culture and compare them to other cultures.”
She also negotiated and signed a Memorandum of Cooperation (MOC) with Stella Maris College for five years ending in December of 2026. She used this MOC to find a VE partner class from Stella Maris for Hosanna Fletcher, a Newton Campus sociology instructor. In addition to VE, the MOC also lists faculty and student exchanges, joint research programs, exchange of scientific and educational literature, organizations of conferences and seminars.
While Perimeter faculty may know her as a passionate advocate for international education, Perimeter students also know Vargis as their champion for their undergraduate academic success. In her past role as honors coordinator for the Newton Campus, (Vargis received the college’s top Honors faculty award, the Portnoy Award, in 2022) and years prior as a member of the Decatur Campus faculty, she promoted exceptional students for academic honors and scholarships. She also corresponds with her students long after graduation and has sent dozens of letters of recommendation when requested.
(And in the past decade, she has shepherded three former students to become Jack Kent Cooke Undergraduate Scholars, one of the most prestigious scholarships in the country.)
A U.S. citizen, Vargis typically returns to India with her husband George to visit family, and to occasionally give guest lectures at Stella Maris College where she taught 35 years ago and also at Ethiraj College.
The Vargis’ also give back and have established scholarships both at Perimeter and at Ethiraj College for Women in Chennai, India.
Learn more about this week’s IEW events.