From a Fun Extracurricular Activity to Thailand

After graduating from high school in Polson, Mont., junior Danielle “Dani” Howlett wanted to get involved with fun extracurricular activities when she applied to be part of the inaugural Global Leadership Initiative (GLI) cohort as a freshman. Now, as she prepares to study abroad at Thammasat University in Bangkok, Thailand, and after many mind-opening experiences in classes for GLI fellows, Howlett says she had no idea how much the GLI would enrich her life.

“Through GLI, I have found my calling,” says Howlett. “The global perspective has really been amazing and it is so inspiring to see how other people in the world tackle challenging problems.”

As a political science major, with an emphasis on international relations, and double minors in international development and global health, Howlett says GLI has made a big difference in the quality of her education.

“I am so much more interested in school now because of GLI,” says Howlett. “The speakers and our discussions, and the whole group of fellows, have been so good. Not to mention I am so excited to travel and learn in Thailand.”

Created on the premise that today’s students need to be prepared to lead in an ever-changing, complex and inter-connected world, UM commits support to each GLI student, especially in their third year of study when they are expected to take their learning outside of the classroom.

“Private gifts assist with all aspects of the program, with special emphases on helping students with the cost of studying abroad, internships, civic engagement and undergraduate research,” says Program Coordinator Jeanne Loftus. “Many students cannot afford to participate in these experiences without help. The University helps students pay for these experiences with funding from donations.”

As the first class enters its third year in the program, this fall’s freshmen are eager to participate. “Currently we have 250 students involved,” says Loftus. “We have gone from having 10 seminars in the fall to 15. Faculty interest also has risen significantly, with many professors proposing new interdisciplinary topics to teach each year. It just keeps growing.”

Spending time in Thailand, Howlett is excited to learn more about the newly industrialized “Asian Tiger” that has exploded as industrialization has taken hold within the Asian continent over the last 20 years.

“I am very interested to see how growth and change have impacted civil liberties and freedoms for Thai people,” she says. “But it also will be amazing to go to school each day in Old Bangkok, and just to be exposed to such a different culture.”

What began as a desire to take part in extracurricular activities has grown to an international experience for Dani Howlett, and quite likely a start on a career in which she will thrive the rest of her life.