Internationalising the campus one student at a time

An innovative programme is helping the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire internationalise its campus by providing new opportunities for students and faculty in all academic disciplines to engage in research, creative activities and service projects throughout the world.

The recipient of the Institute of International Education's 2014 Andrew Heiskell Award for Internationalising the Campus, UW-Eau Claire's International Fellows Program – IFP – capitalises on the strength and success of high impact academic experiences that have long been offered on our campus.

Through the programme UW-Eau Claire sends students, in partnership with faculty and staff mentors, abroad for intense international learning experiences that range from three weeks to several months in duration.

The programme often attracts students and faculty with global interests but who, for various reasons, have not participated in traditional international programmes.

Now in its fourth year, the IFP has already implemented 44 projects mobilising 144 students and 48 members of faculty and staff.

Students and faculty mentors from numerous disciplines – from journalism to art to computer science to biology – have participated in IFP-funded projects, which have taken students to places as varied as Peru, China, Sri Lanka, Tanzania, Macedonia, South Africa, Thailand and the Bahamas.

Immersion experiences

Through IFP, we provide students and faculty with immersion experiences in world regions that often are outside the realm of our traditional study abroad destinations, and in academic disciplines or creative pursuits that are typically not represented in traditional study abroad programmes.

By supporting student-faculty teams as they pursue research or creative projects, we are meeting the needs of students who want to conduct research or pursue a creative activity while immersed in another culture.

While nearly a quarter of UW-Eau Claire students study abroad, and faculty and students have long pursued international research, no formal campus programmes were in place to support students who wanted to be part of international research or service projects.

The IFP provides an administratively supported vehicle and consistent funding source to faculty and students who want to conduct research, explore scholarly questions, or pursue creative or service projects abroad.

The programme provides faculty and students with airfare, in-country transportation and lodging, and stipends of US$1,000 to US$1,500. This financial support allows students to participate in an international experience when they may not otherwise have been able to afford to do so.

Lower income students

Seventy percent of students who engage in IFP projects have had no previous study abroad experience. A higher percentage of male and lower-income students enrol in IFP than in our more traditional study abroad programmes. The number of lower-income students participating in IFP projects has increased each year.

As a result, the programme is helping UW-Eau Claire meet its goal of extending the reach and impact of international education to a broader campus population by drawing in students who otherwise may not or could not study abroad.

IFP projects have taken students to all parts of the globe, providing them with learning opportunities that go far beyond anything that could be offered within the physical borders of our campus.

In some projects, the students also have a lasting impact on the regions they visit. For example, journalism students helped a village in the tiny nation of Moldova start its first public radio station.

Social work students spent time in South Africa studying burnout among professional caregivers who provide services for children orphaned by the HIV-Aids pandemic; their data will help develop training and support programmes for caregivers.

And biology students studying fish species on San Salvador Island, Bahamas, spent time educating youth there on the value of and need to conserve the environments of their island.

While a minimum three-week immersion experience is central to all IFP-funded projects, students also must spend significant time prior to their travels learning about the people and culture of the region they will visit. IFP requires that students and faculty have appropriate knowledge of the host country's culture and language to ensure a successful project.

When students return to campus, faculty continue to work with them on research and projects. Students also must present their research during UW-Eau Claire's student research event.

International research projects

Students have gained internship and job opportunities based on work completed during IFP projects. Others have been invited to continue their work on international research projects because of connections they've made with faculty around the globe. Many have been invited to present their research at national or international professional conferences.

More than 95% of the students who have participated in IFP projects say the international experience will be a significant factor in helping them achieve their future goals.

Many faculty have reported that through IFP projects they've established relationships with colleagues in different parts of the world, connections that help them further their scholarly work, create new opportunities for their students and strengthen their curriculum.

Increasingly, faculty are integrating their international research and creative activities into on-campus classes.

For example, an art and design professor who engaged in an IFP-supported printmaking workshop with a Scottish professor is now teaching the new technique in an introduction to art class. She also plans to turn her creative IFP experience into a Winter and Summer class.

The IFP is funded by the Blugold Commitment, an innovative funding initiative that uses differential tuition dollars to support high impact learning experiences at UW-Eau Claire. Our student leaders have a significant say in how these tuition dollars are spent. Given IFP's ongoing funding, our students clearly see it as a high value initiative with significant learning outcomes.

While the IFP funding source is unique to UW-Eau Claire, the programme itself can serve as a model for other institutions that share our commitment to international education.

* Karl Markgraf, director of the Center for International Education at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, was one of the architects of the International Fellows Program. The programme will receive the Institute of International Education's 2014 Andrew Heiskell Award for Internationalising the Campus, which will be presented in March in New York City during an IIE conference that highlights best practices in international education.