Alumni Success Story

Virtual Exchange Broadens Horizons for Alumna in Iowa


Cassandra Pantel continues using the skills she learned during her virtual exchange program, IREX’s Global Solutions Sustainability Challenge, at her job. She credits this experience with broadening her horizons and influencing her professional goals.

In spring 2019, Cassandra Pantel participated in the Global Solutions Sustainability Challenge, a virtual exchange program implemented by IREX. This virtual exchange connected groups of undergraduate students at U.S. community colleges with students in Jordan to study how hospitality and tourism intersect with sustainability. During this 10-week virtual exchange, 15 binational teams and more than 315 students investigated the impact of global hospitality and tourism issues in their local communities, collaborated with team members in another country, and developed sustainable business concepts in response to a challenge prompt inspired by the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Cassandra’s team was one of three finalists to present their concept at an in-person summit in Washington, D.C., where they were selected as the overall winner of the challenge.

After graduating from Kirkwood Community College last spring, Cassandra began a role at Cedar Ridge Winery & Distillery located in Swisher, Iowa, where she is in charge of the day-to-day operations behind the bar. A year after her program, Cassandra continues to use the skills she developed during her virtual exchange every day. Sharing an example of sustainable practices used at her job, she points out, “all of our spent grain from distilling is given to a local farmer to feed their livestock. This not only helps the environment, but also in turn helps feed families.” In addition to knowledge about sustainability practices, other skills developed during her program contribute to her career success, including improved communication, project and event planning, business concept development, collaboration, and teamwork.

The impact of Cassandra’s exchange isn’t limited to skills development. Her participation in the Global Solutions Sustainability Challenge also influenced her professional and personal goals. “Thanks to virtual exchange I want to experience more of the world,” she said. “I want to live in different cities and larger cities, so that I get to be a part of a diverse community.” For now, she continues to be a part of her virtual exchange community by keeping in touch with her international partners in Jordan. “I most definitely made a connection with many of my international partners. Laith and I regularly Snapchat each other and nearly all of my teammates and I follow each other on Instagram or are friends on Facebook. We reach out on occasion to catch up and chat.”

“Thanks to virtual exchange I want to experience more of the world. I want to live in different cities and larger cities, so that I get to be a part of a diverse community."

Cassandra Pantel, Alumna, IREX’s Global Solutions Sustainability Challenge

In addition to exploring more of the world, Cassandra plans to eventually manage a restaurant, developing more experience so she can open her own in the future. She recommends virtual exchange to other students whole-heartedly: “My virtual exchange experience was life changing. It opened my eyes to an entirely new world of thought and to a whole other set of friends I never would’ve been able to meet otherwise.“

Global Solutions Sustainability Challenge and Global Solutions Conversations are implemented by IREX and is supported by the J. Christopher Stevens Virtual Exchange Initiative (JCSVEI). JCSVEI is a U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs program administered by the Aspen Institute.

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