Dr. Dean Rojek champions student-exchange programs … and sees a higher purpose in them.
Dean taught for 29 years at UGA, retiring as Josiah Meigs Distinguished Teaching Professor Emeritus, the university’s highest recognition for excellence in instruction.
He founded a student-exchange program with Leicester University in England, famous as the birthplace of genetic fingerprinting (and for identifying the 500-year-old remains of Richard III).
Kathy, Dean’s wife, earned her doctorate in Education at UGA, then guided the youngsters at an Athens elementary school as principal for 10 years.
At age 78, Dean runs four miles every day. He’s a certified track official and works all UGA track and field events in Athens … plus meets at other universities.
Dean generously established an endowment and a deferred gift to support UGA students who want to study abroad.
“There’s no substitute for the kind of learning that comes from international study. I appreciate that UGA requires students to receive experiential learning credits before graduation, since this encourages more students to study abroad.”
Early in his academic career, Dean Rojek twice traveled to China with a criminal justice delegation. The next year, he enthusiastically accepted a teaching post at the University of Shanghai.
It began what he calls a “grand and wild experience.”
“My mind was simply blown away,” Dean says, “by the whole opportunity to live abroad and by seeing how crime and justice were handled in another country. It convinced me that it’s absolutely imperative that a student get exposure to parts of the world beyond the United States.”
That conviction deepened with teaching stints for the UGA study-abroad program in Costa Rica, where he lectured at an eco-lodge in a rain forest. The last 19 years of his esteemed UGA career, he taught every summer in the Alps, at Innsbruck, Austria.
Dean decided he wanted to make such life-enriching international experiences possible for UGA students.
With “a modest gift,” as Dean calls his donation, the university established an endowment in his name – the Rojek Student Exchange Program Award. The award first supported a student-exchange program between UGA and the University of Leicester, a picturesque school in the English Midlands. (The Rojek Award now funds exchange to other countries.)
“The administrators at UGA handled everything in setting up the endowment,” Dean says. “It was as simple as walking in the office, shaking hands, and telling them what I wanted to do.”
That’s not the end of his giving.
Dean revised his will, leaving part of his estate to the student-exchange program after he leaves this world he has so energetically explored. He joins UGA’s Heritage Society, an exclusive group of alumni and friends who leave deferred gifts to the university.
Rojek’s current and future contributions help students pay air fare between the U.S. and England and other exchange-program countries. Think of the gifts as a glide path for cultural enrichment the way Dean learned it – experientially.
Dean finds his deferred gift and endowment gratifying, though in different ways.
“I find it extremely satisfying to interact with current students who benefit from UGA’s study-abroad program,” he says, “but I want to ensure future generations of UGA students will get to experience the same benefits.”
Born in upstate New York, Dean attended undergraduate school at UCLA on his way to a doctorate in Sociology at the University of Wisconsin. He lectured a few years at the University of Arizona before joining UGA’s Department of Sociology. There he taught courses in criminology and juvenile delinquency from 1978-2007.
To encourage more students to experience international learning, Dean single-handedly created the Leicester student-exchange program. Traveling to the Midlands, he “fell in love with the place,” he says. In the exchange program, students pay a semester’s tuition at UGA or Leicester, then cross the Atlantic to attend classes and earn credits.
Century-old Leicester sits on a rolling pastoral campus about a two-hour drive north of the hustle and bustle of London.
Dean chuckles at one cultural lesson from the international exchange.
“Universities don’t have cheerleaders in England,” he says. “American cheerleading completely fascinated Leicester students. I’ve seen them come to campus parties with pom-poms.”
Dean passionately feels that UGA students in exchange programs gain unique insights.
“It’s just so clear to me that we all benefit from seeing how other countries deal with different issues, to see how they function, how they solve problems, how they educate,” he says. “People think differently. They react differently. They even drive on a different side of the road.
“We don’t have all the answers just because we live in the USA,” Dean insists. “We can best understand the world and its problems by getting out of our country … and out of our comfort zones.”
With the purposeful gift Dean has left … and will leave … to UGA students, that understanding of our world might be nearer than ever.