Have a special meal this Father’s Day weekend and help Santa Monica College students broaden their horizons and learn firsthand what it means to be a global citizen.

Art’s Table co-owners Mark and Lani Verge are hosting a fundraiser June 19-21 at the restaurant, located at 1002 Montana Ave. Proceeds from a special menu will benefit the Art Verge Study Abroad Scholarship Fund, which provides grants of $500 to selected students taking part in SMC’s Winter Study Abroad Programs.

Mark Biedlingmaier, a student manager for the SMC Organic Learning Garden and a lab tech assistant at the SMC Greenhouse, was one of the 10 students who received a Verge grant for the Winter 2015 Study Abroad Program to South Africa.

“The grant to further my development as a global citizen was such an honor,” said Biedlingmaier. “It freed me up to truly immerse myself in a different culture and society, and helped widen my perspective on humanity in ways that wouldn’t — and couldn’t — have happened from just studying books in a classroom.”

Biedlingmaier said that “spending time at the historical District 6 Museum and learning about Apartheid through local interactions had the most influence on me.” Personally meeting and hearing the stories of “people like Revina Gwayi — a woman I bonded with at the museum, who told me, ‘One day we had a community, the next we had bulldozed rubble,’ — struck a deep chord with me and showed me how we can learn to embrace diversity. I was very humbled by the way people were willing to open up their lives to us and speak from their heart.”

A geography and environmental studies major, Biedlingmaier said he was encouraged to go to South Africa by SMC geography instructor Bill Selby, who was “absolutely an inspiration to me. As a result, I got to see bold and astonishing landscapes – and California-like beaches, only with penguins! —and to learn where our species originated.”

At a lion park just outside Johannesburg, Biedlingmaier had the chance to learn about the area’s wildlife, pet a lion cub, and feed an ostrich, but “what really impressed me was Kruger National Park,” he said. “Seeing all those animals in their wild natural environment was so revealing. It made me start thinking about the future for wildlife environments in the world.”

Biedlingmaier wants to eventually transfer to a university and earn a Bachelor’s degree. “I’m not exactly sure in what yet, but I’m interested in sustainability. It’s imperative for us to learn how to interact in peaceful and holistic ways to create a better world for future generations.” His plans are to save up and prepare for his next study abroad experience: New Zealand.

The Verges established the Art Verge Study Abroad Scholarship Fund to encourage SMC students to travel and study in other countries.

“The study abroad grants are awarded in memory of Mark Verge’s father, Dr. Art Verge,” said SMC Foundation Interim President Lizzy Moore. “He taught California and Latin American history at SMC for more than 40 years and helped pioneer our study abroad programs.”

For more information about the Art Verge Study Abroad Scholarship Fund, please contact the Santa Monica College Foundation at 310-434-4215.

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