International Volunteers of the Year: Alex and Irina Ponomarev
Alex and Irina Ponomarev have two daughters, Marina and Mila. The Ponomarevs are from St. Petersburg, Russia, where they worked as physicists. After coming to Christ, they became actively involved in organizing Bible studies, discipleship groups, church planting, and many other activities related to spreading the Gospel in the former Soviet Union.
Upon completion of their Master of Divinity. and M.A. in Missions at Reformed Theological Seminary in 1996, both Alex and Irina were called to serve with Russian Language Ministries in Columbia, S.C.
For five years they were deeply involved in cross-cultural and language training of American missionaries, who were preparing to serve among Russian speaking peoples. They also began a direct outreach to Slavic people in Columbia, SC, and in the former Soviet Union.
In January of 2002, developing their vision to reach Russian speakers in America and overseas, they initiated a new ministry—MOST. MOST is the Russian word for “bridge” and this acronym stands for “Ministry of Outreach to Slavic Tribes.” Alex and Irina pray that the Lord will use them as human bridges of His love to Slavic peoples in Columbia, SC, America, and overseas. In addition to direct outreach, they are aiding missions agencies, and churches to disciple Russian speaking peoples in the former Soviet Union and elsewhere.
International Community Ambassador of the Year: Dr. Henry Tisdale
Dr. Henry Tisdale is a member of the National Association of Schools and Colleges of the United Methodist Church, the Council of Fellows of the American Council on Education, the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges, and Chairs of both the Community Higher Education Council and the Commission on Black Colleges of the United Methodist Church. In addition, he is actively involved in civic and community activities. These include membership in the Rotary Club of Orangeburg, the NAACP, Trinity United Methodist Church, the Sigma Phi Fraternity, and Alpha Omega Boule of Orangeburg. Dr. Tisdale is President of the Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc., Epsilon Omega Chapter, in Orangeburg. He is a philanthropist in the true sense of the term and has given generously to local, regional, national, and international causes, such as the recent tsunami affecting Southeast Asia.
Currently, Claflin is the only college or university of South Carolina to be ranked in the “Top Ten.” It is also ranked as the “Best Value” in its cohort for 2005. Dr. Tisdale is a true internationalist. This aspect is amply observed in his involvement with the establishment of Africa University in Zambia, in the establishment of an International Studies Program at Claflin University, and in the numerous consortia and exchange agreements that he has implemented with institutions in Kenya, Zambia, Mexico, Japan, Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, South Africa, France, China, the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland. He has also implemented a “Windows to the World” series for the community. This initiative brings the global village into our community by sponsoring the visits of international artists, writers, scholars, and dignitaries to the Claflin campus. All events are open to the public and many of these programs have greatly enlightened the local community. Under Dr. Tisdale’s presidency, the university has become a model of integration and international diversity. Presently, about 25% of the faculty is of international origin representing various countries and religions, and 7% of the student body comes from about twenty countries outside the US. Current strategic goals will ensure greater diversity within the next few years. The university has also established diversity scholarships and is among the few schools nationwide that award merit scholarships regardless of national origin. Moreover, in his role within the state and national United Methodist church, Dr. Tisdale has been a strong proponent of the “Hispanic Outreach” of “Inter Faith” dialog and African American issues such as the crucial role of Black Colleges in American higher Education. Complementing this is his integral involvement in the Rotary Club of Orangeburg, which has played a leading role in establishing viable relationships with Rotary Clubs in Asia, Africa, and Europe. In his quest to establish understanding between cultures and nations, Dr. Tisdale has also traveled to the Caribbean, Europe, the Middle East and Southeast Asia. Stanford University, Bangladesh has recently recognized him for his “leadership, vision, and service to international education.”
International Professional of the year: Jimmy Chao
Chimin (Jimmy) Chao was born in Taiwan and is now a resident of Lexington, South Carolina. He is married to Yuhjen (Jane) and has twin daughters Jessica and Nichole. He obtained his Bachelor of Engineering from Chung Yuan University. He completed his Master of Science in Civil Engineering at the University of South Carolina in 1983.
Mr. Chao is a licensed professional engineer in the states of South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, Pennsylvania and Texas. He is also a licensed general contractor and building inspector. Mr. Chao is the founder and president of Chao and Associates which was established in 1987. This is an engineering firm specializing in civil and structural engineering. He is the open-end structural consultant for the South Carolina Department of Transportation, South Carolina Department of Corrections, University of South Carolina, Medical University of South Carolina, City of Columbia and Richland County School District One.
Mr. Chao has served as president of the National Society of Professional Engineers, Columbia Chapter, and as chairman of the Structural Technical Group of the American Society of Civil Engineers. He was the project engineer for the Ashley River Rehabilitation Project, which won the Engineering Excellence Award from Consulting Engineers of South Carolina.
Mr. Chao is on the Board of Directors for First Community Bank, which has eleven branches and serves the Midlands of South Carolina. He is a Rotarian in the Five Points club and has served as director of its International Services and Vocational Services. Mr. Chao is a member of the board of Carolina Sunshine for Children, which is a charity organization that grants wishes for children who have life threatening illnesses. All the expenses are paid out of pocket by the Board of Directors. Mr. Chao is currently on the Board of the Cultural Council of Richland and Lexington Counties, and Friends of the Library of Richland County.
Mr. Chao has established his own scholarship at the University of South Carolina, which is awarded to minority students interested in structural engineering, with preference given to those of Chinese/Taiwanese origin.
International Business Person of the Year: Rick Patel
Rick Patel was born in London, England to parents who are from the Gujarat region of India. When he was five, his family moved to the United States. A true international, he still travels extensively across the US and abroad, and considers India his native land.
Mr. Patel enrolled at the University of South Carolina to study business finance. During his junior year, he left college in order to join Sejwad Hotels, a family business founded by his father and his uncle. Rick Patel was appointed Chief Executive Officer of the business and has managed to grow the company in an economic period when most of the hotel industry has slowed. Since his arrival, Sejwad Hotels has added on average an additional hotel each year. The company now owns and operates nearly a dozen hotels in the Columbia area. Mr. Patel has been characterized as “a savvy, focused businessman with enviable knowledge of the local hotel industry”.
Mr. Patel serves as Chair of the Greater Columbia Hotel and Motel Association, whose members represent seventy percent of the area’s hotel rooms. He is also a member of the Board of Directors of the SC Hotel and Motel Association, as well as the Columbia Regional Sports Council. Mr. Patel is an owner of Café Sebi, a Cuban restaurant on Garners Ferry Road.