Published on July 17, 2023 by Diamond Nunnally  
2023 Bogota Colombia Conference 640 480 px
Professors Sara Ortega-Higgs, Joanna Bradley, Tiffany Robayna and Heather West in front of the Colegio Americano in Bogotá, Columbi (Photograph Courtesy: Joanna Bradley)

On June 9-10, Samford University Howard College of Arts and Sciences' Department of World Languages and Cultures Professors Sara Ortega-Higgs, Joanna Bradley, Heather West and Tiffany Robayna attended a symposium hosted by Lee University and Colegio Americano, a Presbyterian-affiliated school, in Bogotá, Colombia. The conference's theme, Education, Mission and Culture, focused on integrating faith, mission and learning and maintaining excellence in all areas.  

"This conference addressed the challenges of integrating faith and learning—a topic we care very much about at Samford," Bradley said. "The rector at Colegio Americano reminded the attendees that institutions can support a Christian philosophy and at the same time, teach science and reason. Our faculty are called to excellence in faith and learning; one area does not preclude the other."  

Ortega-Higgs said, "We could affirm each other in our calling and life purpose as Christian educators, share our triumphs and struggles and pray for each other. We came to encourage our fellow educators, but we were the ones that left uplifted." 

Ortega-Higgs was the keynote speaker at the conference, which was attended by delegations from Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Brazil and other parts of Colombia. Her lecture was inspired by Mary McCampbell's book, Imagining Our Neighbors as Ourselves: How Art Shapes Empathy. The book talks about how art and literature can help shape individuals' empathy, and Higgs spoke about how the inclusion of social justice themes in foreign language courses develops their imagination and leads them to create connections with the Other and their culture. Higgs shared her methods for integrating social justice in Samford's foreign language curriculum and how she has led her students in community service projects to "connect their brain to their heart" and to find a sense of purpose in their language learning journey.  

"We were invited to share our expertise and teaching practices in our field, but, as guests, we entered the sacred space of our hosts with respect, honor and a genuine desire to learn from them," Ortega-Higgs said. "That is what a true dialogue is all about—discussing with others to find our deeper truth and to exert values such as tolerance, respect and humility while we are doing so. This conference allowed us to network with other institutions' members and learn about different institutional philosophies, cultures and classroom practices."   

Professors Bradley, West and Robayna held break-out sessions for 35 English-language teachers from Colombia and other Spanish-speaking countries. Bradley hosted a session on teaching foreign language pronunciation. Robayna's session focused on best practices for teaching grammar in the foreign language classroom, and West introduced participants to Integrated Performance Assessments. 

“Drs. Bradley, Robayna and I were able to work with native Spanish speakers who teach English,” West said. They were grateful for our authentic resources and pedagogical strategies. It was an English immersion workshop for them, and they enjoyed the practice. We appreciated the opportunity to collaborate with them.” 

"I am especially proud to represent Samford in Colombia and I have had several opportunities to share our approach to faith and learning with administrators," Bradley said. "Working alongside my colleagues has been such a joy!" 

Administrators were so impressed by Samford's faculty that they contacted them about returning for a two-day workshop. 

The symposium organizer, Alexander Steffanell, a foreign language professor at Lee University said, “Samford’s faculty were an amazing professional asset during the conference. I am glad that we had four Christian scholars who spoke about where Samford stands regarding faith-related education and mission. These knowledgeable and decorated professors arrived in our country to impact and inspire masses of South American scholars, teachers, students and Christian leaders. Their passion for teaching and transforming viewpoints were evident and thought-provoking in our institutions in Colombia. Lee University and the Colombian institutions are eternally grateful for this new fellowship with Samford, and we hope to expand our friendship beyond this event.” 

Samford is a leading Christian university offering undergraduate programs grounded in the liberal arts with an array of nationally recognized graduate and professional schools. Founded in 1841, Samford is the 87th-oldest institution of higher learning in the United States. Samford enrolls 5,791 students from 49 states, Puerto Rico and 16 countries in its 10 academic schools: arts, arts and sciences, business, divinity, education, health professions, law, nursing, pharmacy and public health. Samford fields 17 athletic teams that compete in the tradition-rich Southern Conference and ranks 6th nationally for its Graduation Success Rate among all NCAA Division I schools.