UB Today Alumni Magazine Online - Fall 2004
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Education abroad: securing America’s future

By Stephen C. Dunnett
Vice Provost for International Education

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Illustration by Polly Becker

Since 9/11, international educators have been surprised and gratified by the surge of interest in study abroad among American students. Contrary to what might have been expected, the terrorist attacks, the war on terror and America’s less favorable relations around the world have not discouraged students from venturing overseas; in fact, recent events seem to have inspired more students than ever to pursue an educational experience abroad.

Many of my colleagues and I view this as the unforeseen silver lining in the darkening clouds of our recent past. It is reassuring to know that more of our students see the importance of international education and recognize the extraordinary benefits that education abroad confers, not only in fostering an in-depth knowledge of other languages and cultures, but also in making possible a new critical perspective.

Among the readers of this magazine are alumni who participated in study abroad programs while at UB and went on to successful careers overseas, contributing to building bridges of understanding between the United States and the countries in which they worked. Many more who remained in the U.S. see their study abroad experience as a watershed in their lives that affected the way they see the world in a profound way.

However, while present trends are encouraging, we have a long way to go. It remains the case that far too few of our students even have passports, much less study abroad. This long-standing problem—that only a small fraction of American students participate in some kind of education abroad experience—was the focus of a national task force I was privileged to serve on during the past year. The Strategic Task Force on Education Abroad was convened by NAFSA: Association of International Educators to address the challenges of increasing study abroad participation in dramatic fashion over the next few decades. In the final report of the task force, “Securing America’s Future: Global Education for a Global Age,” September 11 was referred to as “a wake-up call” for our nation.

“That grim morning took us by surprise, in part, because we had closed our eyes and ears to the world around us,” the report reads. “We could not hear or understand what our enemies were saying. We need to reverse this dangerous course by adequately preparing our youth to deal with the problems of today’s world.” The

task force called for ambitious increases in U.S. study abroad participation rates: By 2010, 20 percent of all American students receiving college degrees will have studied abroad for credit, and by 2040, 50 percent. These goals cannot be achieved without a coordinated national effort that involves government, the private sector and institutions of higher education.

That effort has been joined at the University at Buffalo, as steps are taken to dramatically increase participation rates in study abroad, from the current seven percent among undergraduates to the task force’s 20 percent target. Our Office of Study Abroad Programs is working with the academic units across campus to achieve this goal. Several new initiatives will help us boost participation rates. One is the new SUNY Chancellor’s Awards for Internationalization created by Chancellor Robert L. King to encourage the development throughout the state university system of innovative summer study abroad programs in underserved academic areas and to less commonly visited countries. In November 2003, UB submitted a total of nine proposals and received three of the 12 awards made system-wide.

Thanks to faculty initiative, study abroad participation in some previously underrepresented areas at the university has already grown rapidly. For example, the number of engineering students at UB who study abroad has risen dramatically in the past five years, due in great measure to faculty leadership in the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.

Many students are under the impression that study abroad is not affordable; in fact, such programs often cost no more than the equivalent program of study at UB, particularly since financial aid can usually be applied to programs offered by UB or another SUNY campus. To encourage more students to participate, we are developing a variety of scholarship programs for study abroad. Thanks to a generous gift from Jeremy Jacobs ’60, chair of the UB Council, students in our Honors Program are eligible to receive scholarships of up to $2,500 toward a study abroad program. Other donors, through their farsighted gifts, have funded scholarships and endowments for study abroad.

These initiatives will enable more UB students to participate in education abroad. The kind of global competence our students want and need cannot be acquired except through extended overseas experiences, and the greater their opportunities to develop a nuanced firsthand understanding of the world, the better served our foreign policy and national security will be.

Dunnett   Stephen C. Dunnett is professor of foreign language education and vice provost for international education. He served on the Strategic Task Force on Education Abroad convened by NAFSA: Association of International Educators.

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