OSU sees increase in faculty led study abroad trips

Elliot Nelson News Contributor

Students pair in-class learning, international travel

Faculty-led study abroad programs at Oregon State University provide students with exceptional experiences; however, the swift increase in the available programs for students creates some growing pains for faculty.

Julie Walkin, the International Program Manager of Faculty-led Programs for OSU Global Opportunities, has a specific definition for a faculty-led study abroad program.

“These, by definition, are taught and led by OSU faculty cut and made to serve OSU students,” Walkin explained. “They offer opportunities for specific majors, and they are typically intensive programs two to four weeks in length.”

Mark Hoffman, Vice Provost for International Programs at OSU, explained the main points of faculty-led study abroad programs at OSU.

“The first point is to provide opportunities for students to go to locations abroad,” Hoffman said. “The second point is to provide courses directly related to each student’s curriculum. The third is to provide a cohort for students. The fourth is to build a close relationship with faculty.”

According to Walkin, faculty-led study abroad programs at OSU allow students to test leaving the country.

“We’d love to see students study abroad for a semester or even a year, but we know in a short time too, students can have a good learning experience,” Walkin said. “Faculty-led programs are great opportunities to test one’s international legs, and find out it’s an extremely worthwhile experience that opens doors such as a desire to travel more—or even participate in an international internship.”

Dwaine Plaza, a sociology professor at OSU, has created two faculty-led programs—one to Cuba, the other to Canada, which he is leading starting this upcoming spring term. Plaza said that faculty-led study abroad programs at OSU provide students with convenience timing-wise.

“During a longer study abroad program, students usually have to quit part-time jobs and figure out what to do with the leases on their apartments,” Dwaine Plaza said.

The number of faculty-led study abroad programs offered at OSU is growing quickly as more students and OSU faculty hear about these programs, Walkin said.

“Last year, we had less than 10 (programs). This year, we have close to 30,” Walkin said.

Dwaine Plaza has an issue with the rising numbers of faculty-led study abroad programs.

“The biggest issue with the increase in the number of faculty-led study abroad programs is that there is no diversity of timing—most run at the same time,” Dwaine Plaza said. “Some programs receive subsidizing with scholarships, which makes them more accessible—the problem is that there are not subsidies for all programs. So, the programs without subsidizes have a harder time attracting students to be part of those programs.”

Dwaine Plaza has proposed a solution to his concerns.

“I am for subsidizing all programs with scholarships, not just a few,” Dwaine Plaza said. “If we made the cost low for all programs, it’s the key to getting more students to participate in them.”

Hoffman explained the opportunities available for the London INTO study abroad partnership program at OSU, which receives scholarship subsidies.

Hoffman noted that scholarship level for each college was set at the discretion of each dean. Dwaine Plaza pointed to the scholarships as to why many faculty-led programs do not receive as much student participation as they could.

“We cannot compete with the limited total number of students who potentially go on study abroad each year with 80 to 100 students in London this summer based on these college-subsidized programs,” Dwaine Plaza said. He talked about student participation before and after the significant increase in the number of faculty-led study abroad programs at OSU.

“When I ran the Cuba trip, there were 17 students in each of its first two years,” Mr. Plaza explained. “This year, there are only 11—the Cuba program has never received any subsidies for students since it began.”

The growing number of faculty-led study abroad programs at OSU poses new challenges for the infrastructure that the OSU Office of Global Opportunities uses, according to Walkin.

Walkin emphasized that while the new infrastructure will help the growing number of programs, and it is designed with the student in mind first and foremost.

“We use an online application management system used by universities all over the country,” Walkin said. “This system is sophisticated and allows students to be the most prepared they can be in order to study abroad.”

According to Walkin, the increase in the number of faculty-led study abroad programs at OSU has seen an increase in student participation overall.

Walkin said that some programs are more popular than others.

“Some programs have even wait listed their students—that’s a new thing for us,” Walkin said.

According to Dwaine Plaza, for a professor to get a faculty-led study abroad program approved and running, they must go before a board.

“OSU Global Opportunities has a board, and they ask faculty for syllabi on new faculty-led study abroad programs,” Mr. Plaza explained. “The board is mixed containing OSU faculty, OSU Global Opportunities professional faculty and an advisor.”

Dwaine Plaza said that professors have to work hard to create a functional faculty-led study abroad program at OSU.

Many OSU faculty-led study abroad programs have a unique structure, Dwaine Plaza said.

“Many programs have two parts—a class that precedes the study abroad trip and the study abroad trip itself,” Mr. Plaza said. “The class involves films, lectures and student presentations. This provides a good foundation for students before they enter the country they are going to.”

Lauren Plaza, an OSU faculty member who helps run the Canada trip with her husband, Dwaine Plaza, said that faculty-led study abroad programs provide a true picture of a given country.

“You don’t get the real story studying abroad with fellow Americans without taking a class beforehand,” Lauren Plaza said.

Lauren Plaza explained that the Canada trip gives students an unconventional experience.

“Our Canada program is especially non-traditional—students experience new lecturers every class who are experts on topics such as the economy, politics, art, etc.,” Mrs. Plaza said. “There are different speakers dependent on the class topic who provide students with insider knowledge about Canada. Those who are not physically on campus are able to speak with us via Adobe Connect.”

Alison Smith and Brad Johnson, students at OSU who participated in the Cuba faculty-led study abroad trip, liked having a class before going abroad.

“Having faculty there with us allowed us to learn a lot of information and solidify what we learned in the class leading up to the trip,” said Smith, a senior in political science said.

Johnson, a senior in political science, said that the class before the trip allowed him to be better prepared for interactions with locals.

Mahalee Evans, a junior in political science, will be a part of the program that goes to Canada next term, and is optimistic about the prospect of the class’s format.

“It’s awesome to meet everyone going on the trip and learn about films before the trip,” Evans said. “It’s a dream class.”

According to Lauren Plaza, small class sizes before trips help students.

“The class allows something called the cohort effect to take place,” Lauren Plaza explained. “By the time spring term is over, we’re very comfortable with each other.”

Smith chose to go on a study abroad trip for various reasons.

“It’s a short trip (two weeks) away from home, and I’m pretty close with Amy Below who was the lead professor of the trip,” Smith said. “[Below] recommended I go, and it really incentivized me that I knew the faculty already.”

Johnson also loved the experience’s convenience from a timing perspective.

“I couldn’t afford studying abroad for a whole term, and I wanted to practice my Spanish and get political science credit,” Johnson said.

For some countries, such as Cuba, studying there requires extra work on the part of the student regardless of the study abroad program, Smith said.

“The application was lengthy in general,” Smith said. “We had to get two academic letters of recommendation and fill out preliminary information on the application that took months and months.”

Participating in a faculty-led study abroad program provides students with lasting memories, according to Smith and Johnson.

“The younger generation (of Cubans) were welcoming, but the older generation were skeptical of us,” Smith said.

Johnson enjoyed the welcoming attitude of the locals.

“I was surprised how the younger generations were so welcoming,” Johnson said. “They would walk up to us and say, ‘Oh, you’re American, huh!?’”

Evans cannot wait to go to Canada, and hopes the trip will improve the prospects of her future.

Hua-Yu Li, a professor in political science who is in charge of Asian studies and co-chair of the Asian studies minor at OSU, endorses faculty-led study abroad programs at OSU even though she does not lead a program herself.

Li recognizes the dedication it takes for her colleagues to lead study abroad trips.

“If I did do a faculty-led study abroad trip, I would take students to China, but I left long ago, and do not have those kinds of connections anymore,” Li said.

Lei Xue, an art history professor at OSU still holds the necessary connections to lead OSU students in China.

Xue had a friend help him get his program at the Zhejiang University of Arts and Communication running.

“Last year, a friend introduced me to the staff at the international office at Zhejiang University,” Xue explained. “They were very happy to host my program.”

Connections are not the only reason why Xue chose to have his two-week program that leaves for China in the beginning of September at Zhejiang University.

“Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province, China is arguably the most beautiful part of China,” Xue said. “This area also has the best food, the fastest Internet connection, and is the closest to different modes of transportation to other provinces, so students can make the most out of their short time in China.”

Diversity is facilitated through faculty-led study programs, Mr. Plaza said.

“Of the six students we have so far, three are students of color,” Mr. Plaza said. “A study abroad program that is 50 percent students of color is unheard of today.”

Walkin said that faculty-led programs have contributed to changing the study abroad student demographic breakdown.

“Nationally, it’s evident that short term faculty-led programs can attract and provide for students from other, non-traditional backgrounds—students could have a family, a full-time job, or be first generation, etc.,” Walkin said. “These students can afford to be out of the country for only 11 days since an awareness of the world is essential for all backgrounds.”

Walkin attributes faculty-led study abroad programs’ ability to fulfill a wide range of requirements for students as to why diverse student populations participate in them.

“Regardless of major or career path, one can study abroad in a faculty-led program,” Walkin said. “Students can do service learning, research, language studies, fieldwork, experience guest lecturers and experience cultural immersion.”

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