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National Student Exchange Program
Celebrates 20th Year at UW-Eau Claire

 MAILED:  Oct. 13, 2004

EAU CLAIRE — Instead of crossing oceans, University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire senior Leslie Haralson crossed state, regional and cultural borders last year when she spent her junior year at Texas State University, San Marcos, through the National Student Exchange. Her tuition and fees were based on UW-Eau Claire's rate, which is a bargain compared to most schools around the country.

"I thought about studying abroad, but finances and safety kept me in the states," said Haralson, a communications major from Franklin. "I have always been a go-getter, and this experience enabled me to live in a place that I have always wanted to and see if it is really a place that I would like to live and get a job after college."

Haralson is just one example of the hundreds of UW-Eau Claire students who have participated in NSE, a program for undergraduate exchange within the United States. There are 176 colleges and universities in the program, and more than 70,000 students have participated during NSE's 36-year history. UW-Eau Claire joined the program in 1984 under the leadership of former associate dean of students Jeanne Hugo.

"I thought at the time how exciting this will be for our students, some of whom had never been out of the state," said Hugo, who retired in 1990. "We had a lot of interest in the program and it grew steadily. It was very rewarding to see how the participants matured and became more confident by the time they returned to campus. I loved being a part of it."

For the past 14 years, associate dean of student development Mary Ryan-Miller has coordinated the program. For most of those years, 30 to 50 students have taken part in NSE, with 43 participants this year, she said. That's about double the number placed by the other four UW System NSE member campuses, Ryan-Miller said, noting that UW-Eau Claire is consistently among top placers of similar institutions in the NSE central region.

"For the price of attending UW-Eau Claire, these students are experiencing college in diverse and sometimes exotic locations," Ryan-Miller said. "The benefits are almost as numerous as the individuals who take part in NSE. They learn about themselves, experiment with academic options and often live in settings that are different from what they have always known."

Becky Haker, who spent a semester at California State University-San Bernardino, even came home with a new car, thanks to an appearance on the TV game show, "The Price Is Right."

"I loved my time in California because it was such an eye-opener to a new place. I loved being so close to the ocean and the mountains. NSE was one of the best experiences of my life," said Haker, a mass communication major from Madison.

Some students make life changes because of their NSE experience. For example, a music major's exchange took him to New Orleans where he expected to find great jazz and musical experiences. Instead he became acquainted with big city issues of poverty and homelessness, said Ryan-Miller. The student changed his major to sociology when he returned, she said.

"Others find their academic niche because they're exposed to a field of study not available here," Ryan-Miller said, describing a biology education major who became involved in genetic research at an NSE school. "She dropped education and focused on an area that led her to a research career."

Students are exposed to new lifestyles and some have different experiences involving cultural diversity, said Ryan-Miller, remembering a student who joined a native dance group at the University of Alaska. "As the only non-native in the group, she definitely widened her cultural perspective," she said.

Some students go where they can snowboard, ski, scuba dive or climb mountains. Mark Cooper, who spent a semester at Montana State University in Bozeman, had the opportunity to live on a dormitory floor set aside for students interested in outdoor experiences.

"There was always someone looking to go fishing or skiing, which made it easy to meet people. There was always a group going hiking, fishing, skiing or kayaking," said Cooper, a criminal justice major from Stevens Point. "I had the pleasure of meeting people from all over the nation through the program. We shared the experience of being in a completely new place, and all the highs and lows that accompany that. This creates a bond that is hard to break."

Meghan Knox, a nursing major from La Crosse, returned from Charleston, S.C., with a greater appreciation for her Midwestern values and way of life. "I'll have lifelong friends from the experience who have helped open my eyes to how much diversity can be found in our country," Knox said. "You don't have to go across an ocean to have a life-altering experience."

NSE also offers special exchange options such as programs for honors students and resident assistants. Beth Nuthals, a senior accounting major from Green Bay, studied at California State University, Chico, for a year on the RA exchange. "The connections I keep with the people in Chico will be good resources when I look at jobs or travel," she said. "Moving out of the Midwest gives you a new respect for what you have here or, in some cases, shows you a new style of living that you would prefer to live in."

Because exotic locales attract the most participants, Ryan-Miller said it's a challenge to attract students from other NSE participating schools to come to Eau Claire.

"We have two here this year," she said. "Students who do come here have a very good experience, and some have stayed and graduated."



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 Judy Berthiaume, Director
UW-Eau Claire News Bureau
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(715) 836-4741

Updated: October 13, 2004