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July, 2019

A Diverse Staff Minds the Mullen Stacks

By Lisa Carroll


Some of the international staff at the John K. Mullen of Denver Memorial Library pose with Michael J. McLane, the director of the library (fourth from left in back row).
If a flag for every country represented by staff members flew in front of the John K. Mullen of Denver Memorial Library, it might remind visitors of the entrance to the United Nations.

About a third of the staff hails from 13 countries other than the United States, according to Michael J. McLane, director of the library. Their diverse nationalities more than bear out a recent Washingtonian magazine report that one in five people in the Washington, D.C., area is foreign-born.

Unlike McLane — whose home state is a mere 376 miles away in Syracuse, N.Y. — much of his staff comes from Eastern Europe, Asia, Africa and Central America.

“It’s been really interesting. We have great food at our parties,” McLane says with a laugh.

Many of the employees have been attracted to CUA because they come from Catholic countries and backgrounds, according to McLane. Others are drawn to CUA as students or because they find working at a university rewarding.

Shanyun Zhang

For Shanyun Zhang, coming to the United States provided an opportunity to further her education. She was born in Beijing, China, during the Cultural Revolution. When she was young, she went to live with her grandmother in Shanghai after her mother was sent to a military camp by the Communist government. Despite the hardships she suffered, she describes her childhood as very happy “because of the love from family and friendship of peers and teachers.”

Zhang arrived in Washington, D.C., in 1998, and enrolled in the University of Maryland to obtain a master’s degree in information sciences. Four years later, she began working at Mullen Library, where she currently is the electronic resources librarian.

She says that working with people from so many different backgrounds has never been a problem. “It’s very simple if everyone has the same goal,” she says.

Emir Isakovic

Emir Isakovic, the building services manager at the library and a part-time student, moved to the United States from Bosnia and Herzegovina (part of the former Yugoslavia) in 1996 with his wife and parents to join his sister, who was an exchange student here. He described living through the end of the Bosnian War as a “nightmare, day after day.”

But he has fond memories of growing up in Sarajevo before the war. He began skiing when he was 2 years old with his father, an international skiing instructor. Isakovic represented his country in a European skiing championship in 1995.

The library’s diversity is not just ethnic, it is religious as well. Isakovic, for example, is Muslim. “Most people here know [I’m Muslim] and they respect that. People are just good here. That’s why I’ve been here so long,” he says.

Nirmal Gomes, a copy cataloger, remembers the exact date he arrived in the United States: Nov. 1, 1996. He came here from Bangladesh with his wife, who is a U.S. citizen.

Nirmal Gomes

Growing up in Bangladesh presented Gomes with limited opportunities. “That is my motherland, so I love it, but growing up there, there is uncertainty. There are limited opportunities and there is no hope, but there is painful struggle to see the hope,” he says.

CUA attracted Gomes with its academic offerings and Catholic identity. In 2004, he received a bachelor’s degree in social science, with a concentration in social work, from CUA’s Metropolitan College. He currently is a graduate student in administrative education.

He says he was particularly drawn to study at a university that embodies the values he learned at Catholic schools in Bangladesh.

Gomes notes many differences between the United States and his native land. Though Bangladesh is a democratic country, there is much political unrest and democracy is “hiding” there, he explains. He believes Americans have more respect for each other’s differing political beliefs.

The opportunities for education also differ vastly, he says, describing Bangladesh as a place that lags behind the West in modern education. Gomes says his interest in education has led him to set up a scholarship program in his home country. He describes education as a “key part of the development process.”

“My experience in this country is great. I tell people that what I have learned here in 10 years is more than I learned in 29 years in my home country,” he says.

Mullen Library isn’t the only place at CUA that attracts an international staff. Helene Robertson, director of the Office of International Student and Scholar Services, says that the School of Engineering, the Center for Planning and Information Technology and the School of Theology and Religious Studies all attract people from very diverse backgrounds. At least 49 nationalities are represented on CUA’s faculty and staff, according to data collected by the Center for Planning and Information Technology.

While the staff at Mullen Library come from many different places and experiences, one thing they all agree on is that living in the United States and working at CUA have been positive experiences.

“One of the greatest things about being in America is to see people from all different countries,” Isakovic says. “It’s about cultural diversity.”

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Last Revised 25-Jan-07 04:29 PM.