Twenty-five years ago, it all started with a simple idea.
Two faculty members at Southeast Missouri State University agreed that the world would be a better place if more students had the opportunity for an international exchange experience.
Armed with that idea and the vision to move it forward, Dr. Marvin Swanson and Margaret Popham- Needels decided to strike out on their own, and they created the precursor to Cenet: INET, International Network for Education & Training.
Naturally enough, the two educators first focused on student exchanges. These efforts eventually blossomed into The Magellan Exchange, a consortium of over 35 universities in the U.S., Europe, Asia, and Latin America. Cenet kept study abroad affordable (and costs predictable) by allowing students, many of modest means, to pay tuition at their home university at the normal rate, rather than paying a potentially higher rate at the host institution.
In 1996, Cenet’s founders broadened their reach beyond the campus by securing approval from the U.S. Information Agency (now part of the Department of State) to sponsor inbound young professional trainees.
At that point, the founders established the future and enduring structure of Cenet: an exchange organization that focused on Americans and international students, providing both study abroad opportunities and non-academic exchanges.
As Cenet evolved, it received approvals from the State Department to conduct other inbound exchanges: Intern, Summer Work Travel (SWT), and Camp Counselor. Revenue from these programs helps keep outbound Magellan exchanges affordable for American students.
This capacity to serve both American and international students enhances Cenet’s reach in fulfilling its mission: to inspire a safer, more prosperous and compassionate world through international education and cultural exploration.
As Cenet’s programs evolved, so did its staff. By 2008, both Dr. Marvin Swanson and Margaret Popham- Needels were considering retirement. As it happened, one of Cenet’s very first study abroad students, Robyn Walker, had recently returned to the U.S. after 17 years living in Europe, and she had joined the Cenet staff. Robyn was appointed Executive Director in late 2008, with Margaret maintaining her presence on Cenet’s board of directors. Dr. Swanson passed away in 2011.
With its core programs in place, Cenet continued to build its partner network, maintain its focus on program quality, and provide outstanding support to its participants. That strong foundation for its programs has allowed Cenet to play a significant leadership role in the exchange community.
Inspired by the Community Support Groups established in Ocean City, MD, and the Wisconsin Dells, Cenet staffed and funded the original Community Support Group for the Summer Work Travel (SWT) program in Branson, Missouri.
Cenet was one of the three organizations present at the creation of ‘J Day’ (named after the J-1 exchange visitor visa), now known as ‘Exchange Day’, an annual celebration of over 140 community events engaging participants across the U.S., providing excellent cross-cultural activities and raising the visibility of the BridgeUSA program (formerly the Exchange Visitor Program) with local officials and publics. Two years ago, Cenet staged the first-ever international ‘Exchange Day’ event in Liverpool, UK.
Cenet gives back on the local level as well. In 2019, Cenet expanded its support for increased international content in Southeast Missouri schools by creating Cultural Classroom. Using revenue from BridgeUSA programs, they funded an intensive study tour of the Dominican Republic for four local educators. Cenet’s goal was to provide these teachers with the tools, experience, and inspiration to enhance their teaching and enrich their curriculum.
To date, Cenet has provided powerful cultural exchange experiences for over 50,000 American and international students. With 25 years of growth, development, and success, Cenet faces its next quarter century with optimism and ambition. All of us have drawn many lessons from the pandemic, but perhaps none is more important than the ongoing relevance of our mission: to create a safer, more prosperous and compassionate world through international education and cultural exploration.
With the help of our communities, our partners, and our participants, we intend to do just that.
Going places, together.
www.cenet.org / www.magellanexchange.org @CenetExchange