COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Charity McMullen was nervous as she prepared to travel from Columbus to the Central American nation of Honduras in early May. This wasn’t just her first time traveling outside the United States. It was her first time on a plane.
A third-year agriscience education major from the Appalachian community of Warsaw, Ohio, McMullen took part in the Honduras community development and delivery study abroad program, offered during May session by Ohio State University’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences (CFAES).
While McMullen said she saw the trip as an excellent opportunity for personal growth and to put to test her “adventurous” nature, she highlighted the academic merits of this type of college experience.
“This trip will give us wonderful opportunities to learn and grow as educators,” McMullen said a few days before leaving. “We will help with the development of the curriculum for a vocational school. We can aid them with more knowledge about agricultural education, but they can do the same for us. I am most excited to learn and take away what the people there can teach us.”
The idea that study abroad programs are much more than guided university vacations is something that the college is working hard to emphasize, said Kelly Newlon, study abroad specialist with the college.
“Study abroad programs provide personal growth for students and give them tools that are crucial for their professional development in today’s globalized economy,” Newlon said. “But they also provide opportunities for tangible academic development. This year, we have concentrated on shoring up the academic integrity of our programs to boost their educational benefits.”
CFAES is a leader at Ohio State in providing meaningful study abroad programs and in the number of students taking part in them.
On average, more than 40 percent of CFAES students participate in study abroad programs, compared to the university’s overall rate of 20 percent. In the 2013-2014 academic year, 248 CFAES students took advantage of the 21 programs offered by the college on all continents except Antarctica.
“But soon, in December 2015, we will be offering our first program in Antarctica, which will truly expand the global reach and diversity of our study abroad opportunities,” Newlon said.
The Honduras trip that McMullen joined was one of five programs offered by the college for the first time this academic year. The others included an international field study program in Ethiopia, an equestrian program in Ireland, a human societies and the environment program in New Zealand, and an exotic animal behavior and welfare program in South Africa.
Animal sciences major David Minich (pictured above), who will start his senior year in the fall, joined the South Africa program this May. Unlike McMullen, he is a study abroad veteran: he traveled to Ecuador as a freshman and crossed the Atlantic to Ireland in his second year.
For the Cincinnati native, studying abroad is not just a great opportunity to see the world and gain a better perspective of global issues. It’s also an integral part of his academic training and a perfect complement to the education he is receiving at Ohio State.
“This South Africa program is all about exotic animal behavior,” Minich said. “My career goal is to work with exotic animals at a zoo, so when I saw the program I knew I had to apply. This is such an excellent educational opportunity to learn how other countries manage their animal populations and what their policies are. It’s nothing like you would get sitting in a classroom.”
Aware that study abroad programs are not cheap and add to the cost of student’s education, CFAES has been proactive in helping students afford the study abroad experience. According to Newlon, all eligible students receive grants ranging from $150 to $750 to help finance their trips. Most of these funds come from endowments supported by alumni, faculty and staff.
“Study abroad is a big target of the college’s fundraising efforts, because we see it as a vital component for developing students as citizens and as professionals,” Newlon said.