Connecting More Students to Different Cultures

February 19, 2021

Alumna and generous donor Paula Stephens Lambert ’65 recently doubled her initial gift to support meaningful and transformational study abroad experiences for MBU students.

It was living and studying in Perugia, Italy, as a young woman that changed Paula Stephens Lambert’s life. Inspired by her experience with Italian food and culture, the Class of 1965 alumna founded her own successful culinary business, the Dallas-based Mozzarella Company, which specializes in handmade European-style cheeses.    

Through her generous support, Lambert is enabling Mary Baldwin students to embark upon their own life-changing adventures abroad just as she did when she was a young woman.

Alumna and generous donor Paula Stephens Lambert ’65 recently doubled her initial gift to support meaningful and transformational study abroad experiences for MBU students.

Opening a door to the world

Celebrating her 50th Reunion in 2015, Lambert gave $100,000 to establish the Paula Stephens Lambert Travel and Study Abroad Fund, which provides the largest single scholarship to support the study abroad experience at MBU. 

A grant of up to $10,000 is awarded to one student each year. Lambert’s support has effectively enabled a series of MBU students to gain international experience who otherwise would not have been able to do so. 

Building upon her initial gift, Lambert has recently made an additional $100,000 gift to the scholarship fund. Since the pandemic has paused international experiences this year, Lambert hopes that two students will benefit annually from the fund in future years when it is again safe to travel.

“I really wanted the amount of support for each student to be generous and make a real difference to their education, so they can live and learn the culture wherever they want to go,” she said. 

Many MBU students find they are unable to realize their dream of studying internationally due to  financial constraints, said Christina Harrison, director of the Spencer Center for Civic and Global Engagement, which coordinates the application process, awarding, and fulfillment of the scholarship. 

“The very generous Lambert scholarship is a game-changer for our most academically talented students who have set their sights on adding cross-cultural skills and global knowledge to their undergraduate degree,” Harrison said.  

Student recipients abroad

Past recipients of the Lambert scholarship have pursued in-depth experiences in countries like India, Germany, and Japan, where they navigated the culture, exchanged views with international students and residents, and communicated in different languages.

Shayla Spruill ’20 studied abroad for an academic year in Hirakata, Japan, at Kansai Gaidai University. There she was able to bring her Asian studies major to life through experiences like serving as an international student representative for city planning and participating in a time-honored rite of passage called Seijin-no-Hi, or Coming of Age Day, for women who have turned 20.

“I could not have had these various experiences simply through the study of Japanese culture on campus,” said Spruill. “By living in Japan my language skills not only improved, I also gained direct experience of Japanese social and cultural life.” 

Asian studies major Shayla Spruill ’20 participated in the Coming of Age Day ceremony in Saitama, Japan. To celebrate turning 20, she and a friend wore a special type of kimono that signified their shift to adulthood and their newfound maturity. (Photo prior to the COVID pandemic.)

Qadira Muhammad ’19, a political science major who also served as SGA president at MBU, studied abroad in Germany for several months, taking classes on German language, history, government, and politics.

“Forming connections from my courses to the relevance of my daily experiences and travels living in Germany shaped my overall understanding about German culture and society,” she said. “I came to understand more deeply how much the present is truly shaped by — and is often a direct consequence of — the past.” 

Studio art major Tanisha Parson ’19 participated in the Japanese Studies Program at Doshisha Women’s College for Liberal Arts in Kyoto, Japan, where she studied language, art, and traditional and modern culture.   

“This experience will fuel my future intentions as an artist and provide me with new perspectives of both art and human experience,” she said. “I feel as if I have grown as a person and developed my own sense of self and how it relates to the world.”

Studio art major Tanisha Parson ’19 studied abroad and painted in Japan, including her work ​Transcendence series 1 “Tori.” Parson is pictured at her gallery opening with MBU art professor Martha Saunders. (Photo prior to the COVID pandemic.)

Inspiration takes shape

When she traveled to Italy at the age of 25 after teaching for a few years, Lambert had planned to stay only for a short time. But she fell in love with the language, food, and culture and made friends from around the world. She ended up staying for five years. 

Her love of Italy went on to inspire and underpin her successful career as CEO of the Mozzarella Company — which she founded in 1982. She is also the author of two cookbooks and owner of her own travel business that takes people to Italy, France, and Ireland for cooking and cultural tours.

“That’s what I love: my whole life has revolved around going to Europe and living in Italy,” Lambert said. “I would never have had any of it without that initial experience living in Perugia from 1968 to 1973. It was an idyllic place and an authentic experience. It really flavored my life, and I feel so lucky.”

After founding the Mozzarella Company and writing two cookbooks, Paula Lambert ‘65 created her own travel business that takes participants on cooking and cultural tours in Europe. Pictured above in Val Gardena in the Dolomites, Italy. (Photo prior to the COVID pandemic.)

Lambert spent two years at Mary Baldwin — returning to her home state to attend and graduate from the University of Texas — but her time on campus still resonates.

“Mary Baldwin was a wonderful environment for me where the professors were nurturing and there was ample opportunity to appreciate culture in a part of the country that has so much history and natural beauty,” she said.

By connecting the support of a Mary Baldwin education with global experience and understanding, Lambert is helping to launch a new generation of students toward their own successful careers and meaningful lives.