COLUMBUS, Ohio — Today, the world is more globalized and interconnected than ever before. For students, college administrators say, this means that no education is complete without a healthy dose of international experiences to help them explore and understand the culture, history, nature and business practices of other countries.
That’s what Dana Sorter experienced when she traveled to South Africa last summer as part of the Exotic Animal Behavior and Welfare Study abroad program sponsored by the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences at The Ohio State University.
“I chose this program to round out my animal science education. CFAES does a great job of providing opportunities to learn about food and companion animals, but I still wanted to learn more about exotic species and thought this would be a good way to do so,” said Sorter, a native of Loveland, Ohio, who started veterinary school at Ohio State this fall. “Observing animals in their natural habitat in game reserves and national parks is something that you just can’t duplicate in a lecture or lab on campus.”
In addition to expanding her professional training, the South Africa program gave Sorter the opportunity to broaden her understanding of the world and gain valuable personal skills.
“Studying abroad can enrich anyone’s education by giving them a global perspective. It is truly an invaluable opportunity to experience the world from a different cultural perspective than your own,” she said. “I also think that being able to say that you visited another country during an educational program is great for your professional outlook because any employer would love to see that you are willing to try new things and take a step outside of your comfort zone.”
Sorter’s experience is exactly what the college strives to offer students, said Kelly Newlon, CFAES study abroad specialist.
“When our students participate in a study abroad program, they do much more than travel to another country,” Newlon said. “They gain access to opportunities for tangible academic achievement and to tools that are crucial for their professional development in today’s globalized economy. At the same time, studying abroad gives them an invaluable opportunity for personal growth.”
CFAES is already 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 approximately 20 percent.
During the 2014-15 academic year, 219 CFAES students took part in 34 university-sponsored study abroad programs, traveling to a total of 26 countries. The college itself sponsored 12 of those programs during the past year, which were attended by both CFAES students and others from Ohio State.
“It has been my vision to expand to all seven continents for quite some time, and we have now achieved that goal,” said Newlon, referring to the college’s first-ever study abroad program to Antarctica, which will be offered starting December 2015. During the 2015-16 academic year, CFAES will offer 19 study abroad programs to 16 countries and Antarctica.
The Antarctica program sets CFAES study abroad even further apart, as it is the only Ohio State program to this desolate continent that is open to any major and is organized as a group experience. Geography students have in the past conducted research with faculty members in Antarctica, but this is the first time a formal Ohio State study abroad program has been developed there.
“We are continuously seeking to improve, expand and meet the needs of our students,” Newlon said. “The college’s Study Abroad Advisory Committee has a goal of 50 percent of our students going abroad during their undergraduate career. We will also continue to fine-tune our programs to ensure that all students have access to a program that helps them meet their graduation requirements within their major or minor.”
Focus on access and affordability
Another aspect of study abroad that CFAES works hard to improve is access and affordability.
The college is proactive in helping as many students as possible pay for part of their programs through scholarships, most of which come from endowments supported by alumni, faculty and staff. This past year, CFAES provided $60,000 from endowed scholarships to students studying abroad.
“Providing scholarship support for study abroad is imperative to many students to even start to dream about the opportunity, let alone make it a reality,” Newlon said. “Research indicates that students with financial need gain the most when they study abroad due to their lack of access to international experiences otherwise.”
Of the 44 applicants for the winter break program scholarship, more than half showed evidence of financial need even before adding on the cost of a study abroad program, Newlon said.
That’s why new sources of scholarships play a crucial role in ensuring that more students have access to study abroad opportunities. In 2014, the Ohio Corn and Wheat Growers Association (OCWGA) started offering $1,000 scholarships to students participating in CFAES’s Brazil study abroad program — that’s up to $20,000 a year in addition to the $60,000 provided by the college in endowed scholarships.
Offered by CFAES for the past 17 years, the Brazil program is a six-week trip that takes place at the beginning of spring semester and is open only to members of Alpha Zeta Partners (AZP), the oldest agricultural fraternity in the United States. It focuses on agricultural economics, leadership, culture and history.
“Ohio corn and wheat farmers compete in a global grain market,” said Tadd Nicholson, executive director of OCWGA. “The AZP students study abroad in Brazil to witness firsthand the global nature of agriculture and begin to understand international markets. Coupled with public policy education and leadership development, AZP mirrors the Ohio Corn and Wheat Growers Association in many ways. Our organization is proud to support such an important learning experience.”
Jesse Eckert and Summer McCracken are two CFAES students who have benefitted from the OCWGA scholarship.
“This generous scholarship was a truly phenomenal blessing for my college education,” said Eckert, a culinary science major from Findlay, Ohio. “The Corn and Wheat Growers Association’s scholarship, combined with the Wolfe Study Abroad Scholarship, sealed my mind when it came to making the decision to travel to Brazil. Financially, the trip was going to be very difficult at first, but the graciousness of their scholarships helped tremendously.”
For McCracken, an agribusiness and applied economics major from Anna, Ohio, the OCWGA scholarship literally “made a world of difference,” as it allowed her to travel to Brazil and also to sign up for the Human and Animal Interactions study abroad program in Ireland this December.
“The College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences encourages study abroad to increase the well-roundedness of a student on both an educational and personal level,” she said. “I now understand why they encourage study abroad experiences, because they are well worth it. I have met so many friends and broadened my network because of this experience. Also, Brazil is one of the emerging leaders in international agriculture. Therefore, it is important to understand the strengths and weaknesses in their agricultural industry so we can learn from it.”
Newlon said study abroad is a critical educational component that allows students such as Sorter, Eckert and McCracken to be better prepared for the demands of today’s world.
“The citizens we strive to mold our alumni to become are critical thinkers who consider the impact of culture, resources and policy on their field of interest,” Newlon said. “By experiencing their chosen career field in another country, they become aware of the unique perspective that we have in the United States and open their minds to a multitude of solutions when solving problems in the workplace.”
Learn more about CFAES study abroad programs at cfaes.osu.edu/studyabroad.