Feb. 1-7, 2002
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U.Va. board hears grim budget news
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New programs send students around the world

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New programs send students around the world

Late last summer two new faculty members, Rebecca Brown (at right, back) and Sandi Smith, took up offices on the second floor of Minor Hall with an ambitious
agenda. The two are charged with boosting participation in U.Va. study-abroad programs to 80 percent.

Sandi Smith and Rebecca Brown
Photo by Jenny Gerow

By Elizabeth Kiem

As the University’s new full-time director of International Studies and first-ever director of study abroad, Rebecca Brown and Sandi Smith were immediately challenged with the task of transforming what, in the past, had been little more than an administrative center for incoming foreign students and outgoing study-abroad candidates, into a central hub for international programs, events, students and faculty university-wide.

“There are a lot of pieces to put into place before we can even move into the direction we want to,” said Brown, who was director of international and intercultural education for the Maricopa Community College district in Arizona before becoming center director here in late August. As a newcomer to the University she faces the ambitious recommendations of the Virginia 2020 Commission, which targets international studies as one of four key areas the University is dedicated to enhancing over the next two decades.

Brown was not daunted by the commission’s vision, which included higher study and research abroad quotas and an internationalization of curricula across all departments. “When I was weighing professional options I saw the 2020 initiative as giving clear indication of higher administration support. I read that and thought, this is an institution that is ready to move forward with international programs.”

One of the most ambitious objectives of the Virginia 2020s international initiative is to boost participation in study-abroad programs from roughly 15 percent 80 percent, a goal Brown calls “very, very high indeed.” Few schools can boast such rates, and those that come close are small private institutions. Among two of U.Va.’s traditional peers, UNC and Duke sent between 20 and 30 percent of their students abroad last year. UNC has a full-time staff of 10 study-abroad administrators, while Duke’s office has 12 advisers just for undergraduates.

Meanwhile, at U.Va. there was one full-time staff person acting as a study-abroad advisor to the entire university. Professor William Quandt, who was named vice provost for international affairs last year in response to the 2020 recommendations, said that after looking at peer institutions “it was pretty clear that we didn’t have the administrative support [to meet those goals.]”

Hiring Smith as director of the study-abroad program was the first step to meeting the 80 percent target. A career expert on international study programs who worked previously at Lehigh and Emory universities, Smith recognized that among the many existent programs across Grounds (some of which the ISO directors confess to still be discovering), there was one uniform short-coming: “Chief among the drawbacks was the credit-issue,” said Smith, referring to the bane of study-abroad programs for U.Va. students — transfer credits.

Until now, students spending a semester or summer abroad had to transfer credits to their U.Va. transcripts. But after a fast-track fall that required close work with nearly every division of University administration — from deans and department heads to the registrar and financial aid office — the ISO is offering five new fully accredited summer programs overseas. (See related story.)

While these initial programs were chosen from about 15 faculty proposals, Smith’s plan for the future is to consult with students when seeking recommendations for additional programs. Her aim, she said, is to create a study-abroad program for every undergraduate major.

There is more work to be done in the spirit of internationalizing academic work across Grounds. “We’re interested in promoting the need for infusing international perspectives throughout the curriculum. That’s not just international courses like foreign affairs — that could be a math class,” Brown said. “Some of the most basic classes can have international perspective.”

She expects scholars and researchers across the campus to be interested in their peers’ activities in shared geographies, just as they would in shared fields of study. “Sometimes they’re out there doing something and they don’t know about each other,” she said, emphasizing the need for a central networking role for the ISO.
In addition to Brown and Smith, Carolyn Laquatra, one of this year’s U.Va. administrative interns, is coordinating efforts to review the school’s orientation programs for incoming foreign students. Also new to the ISO, Murielle Kervizic recently has taken the job of study-abroad adviser. Quandt expects the office to grow by two or three members over the next few years, but there is no immediate budget for more personnel.

In fact, funding concerns affecting the entire University has Brown and her team looking at some possible revenue-generating options, and plans are afoot to partner with the University development office. “We think that some of the programs would be a very natural place for donors — and we also think it would be a place to help join people together to create endowments.”

Brown would especially like to see scholarships made available for those students who have not had the opportunity to travel before. “Some of these students have never even been out of Virginia,” she said, adding that the office’s mission is to foster a global Academical Village.

Early in their shared tenure, Smith and Brown found world events pressuring further review of the ISO’s role. “The events of Sept. 11 mean we need to focus more carefully on safe security and risk-management issues,” said Brown. If Vice Provost Quandt is correct in his prediction that this year will see the highest number ever of students traveling abroad, the ISO will have its work cut out in tracking all those students and ensuring security for them while overseas.

At Friday’s meeting of the University’s Board of Visitors, Quandt made a presentation on the progress he and his staff have made during the past year. He outlined the guiding principles that have helped shape their work – and the five new programs they have created. They include being able to grant full U.Va. credit, academic excellence in courses closely aligned to U.Va. curriculum, attention to safety and security, and interesting and exciting locales.

He gave an overview of the five new summer initiatives before announcing a proposed semester-long program in London that could begin as early as next fall.

The program, in association with New York University and the University of London, would offer a broad range of coursework and, again, full U.Va. credit. “Our goal,” Quandt said, “is to create a whole menu of first-rate study-abroad programs with U.Va.’s brand name on them.”


© Copyright 2002 by the Rector and Visitors
of the University of Virginia

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