International program director changing face of Carroll students

Geri Beltowski said she didn’t know that raising three kids would be her “training” for raising a group of about 20 more.

Beltowski, the director of the International Program at Bishop Carroll, said that though her children are 27, 25 and 23, she was still “in the realm of how teens think” when she became the program’s director in 2009.

Now, she has a group of 23 students from China that she seeks to teach the same life lessons they’d learn from their parents at home.

“They’re not just here academically,” Beltowski said.

The program seeks to create a place for the students that feels like more than a dormitory, she said.

“We truly wanted to make it a home environment,” Beltowski said.

Since she took over the International Program five years ago, it has grown from five students and has led to a renovation of Aquinas Hall, the on-campus facility where the students live.

Previously, Bishop Carroll had an exchange program, but the students would stay with host families, Beltowski said. In the updated program, the students live in Ebensburg for 10 months of the year.

As the “mother” of the program, Beltowski makes sure the students have access to everything they need: trips to the bank and post office, help with homework and reminders about practices. For a field trip, it’s Beltowski’s signature on the students’ permission slips.

Beltowski said that she takes this role very seriously, though it can be a challenge. She said the students’ backgrounds can, at times, make things more difficult, but all she can do is “listen and learn.”

“Regardless of the language and culture – teens are teens,” Beltowski said.

Joe Skura, Bishop Carroll’s director of athletics and public relations, said Beltowski’s relationship with the students in the program is incredible to watch.

“She’s a disciplinarian when she needs to be, but she’s kind and compassionate to the kids,” Skura said. “I think she really works hard to make sure they have a positive, rewarding experience.”

Skura said Beltowski has worked “above and beyond” the call of duty to make sure the students are able to join extracurricular activities and sports. He also said it’s impressive how much time she spends communicating with the students’ parents back in China.

Beltowski will send newspaper clippings that feature the kids and photos of the activities they’ve been doing, Skura said.

Beltowski said she’s seen the results of her hard work in the parents’ reactions. Many of them, she said, come to Bishop Carroll to visit the school their child will be attending.

And most are impressed with the experience, she said. A quote from one student’s father will always stick with her, Beltowski said.

“It’s better than expected,” the man told her, “and more than I ever could have imagined.”

Skura said that Beltowski is a “giver” and pushes her to help the students in any way she can. A number of the international students continue to write letters to Bishop Carroll teachers after they leave, Skura said, which shows the impact the program made on them.

And all of Beltowski’s work is done with a smile, he said.

“She’s always treating you very warmly, is always able to make you smile and has something positive to say,” Skura said.

Beltowski said her hard work all comes from a deep love of Bishop Carroll, from which she graduated in 1981. She called her time at Bishop Carroll “the best four years of [her] life.”

She has been involved in a number of different school organizations since graduation: alumni groups, fundraising and eventually the Board of Trustees.

She became the chair of the committee overseeing the International Program, and when the director’s position became vacant, she jumped at the chance to take it.

“As time went by, I really found an absolute, true love,” she said.

Beltowski, however, said she would “never take credit” for her efforts with the program and said she has a great team that works with her to help make the International Program the best it can be.

Maintenance workers at Aquinas Hall, Bishop Carroll teachers and members of the school’s Board of Trustees all ensure the International Program is moving in “a really great direction.” She said all of these people really “see the vision” of what the program can be.

Beltowski is looking to continue expanding the program and is hoping to add students from other countries to the group at Aquinas Hall in the next few years. She said they could expand the program’s reach as early as this fall and that she’s made contacts with people in a number of countries that are interested in coming to Bishop Carroll.

This is just the next step, she said, in reaching the goal of making Aquinas Hall into a “truly international house.”

For now, though, the Chinese students do plenty to open the eyes of the American students at Bishop Carroll, she said.

She said the American students learn just as much from the international students as the Chinese ones do from their journey oversees. And, if nothing else, Beltowski said she hopes the students take those lessons away from their high school years.

“Hopefully they take a little piece of us, of Bishop Carroll, home with them,” Beltowski said.

Mirror Staff Writer Paige Minemyer is at 946-7535.