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UW-Eau Claire Study Abroad Programs
Receive National Honor

RELEASED: Jan. 24, 2007

EAU CLAIRE — A national organization has recognized the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire's commitment to helping more undergraduate students study abroad.

UW-Eau Claire's "Education Abroad: Removing Barriers and Extending the Reach" program received an Honorable Mention in the study abroad category for the Andrew Heiskell Award for Innovation in International Education from the Institute of International Education. It's one of four programs in the nation to receive the prestigious award.

"UW-Eau Claire has long recognized the importance of providing students with meaningful international experiences," said Chancellor Brian Levin-Stankevich. "In our increasingly global society, our graduates' understanding of other cultures and their experience interacting with diverse populations is more important than ever. We're committed to making international experiences available to all of our students. It's satisfying to see our efforts recognized in this way."

With more than 400 students studying abroad annually, UW-Eau Claire ranks among the top 20 master's institutions nationally in study abroad participation, according to the annual Open Doors report. It also ranks in the top three master's institutions nationwide for duration of study abroad.

"We have a very successful international program but several years ago we recognized that few students of color or students who major in education and nursing study abroad," said Karl Markgraf, director of the Center for International Education. "We did research to determine what was keeping those students from having an international experience and then we developed the 'Removing Barriers' plan to address those issues."

The research determined that it's difficult for nursing and education students to study abroad without extending their graduation, Markgraf said.

In response, the university developed two new programs and partnered with two existing programs to offer nursing and education students study abroad opportunities of at least six weeks that include significant interaction in the host culture and challenge students to step out of their ethnic comfort zone, Markgraf said.

A six-week Thailand program, which began in summer 2004, is a partnership with Payap University in Chiang Mai and is focused on ethnic minorities in Thailand, with specific attention to the Hmong, Markgraf said. It includes a weeklong home stay in a traditional Hmong village and a field excursion where students work in a non-governmental organization that helps ethnic minority groups practice sustainable agriculture, he said.

Forty-two students have participated, Markgraf said. Of those, 64 percent have been Hmong and Hmong-American, and 17 percent have been education or nursing majors.

Also in summer 2004, UW-Eau Claire began a program with the University of KwaZulu-Natal's International School in Durban, South Africa. The five-week program includes a service-learning requirement that places students in orphanages, clinics and other social service organizations, providing first-hand experience for nursing and education students, Markgraf said. UW-Eau Claire has sent 43 students on the program and 21 percent of the students have been nursing or education majors, he said.

And in summer 2006, UW-Eau Claire began a Costa Rica nursing program, Markgraf said. The six-week program offers intensive instruction in medical Spanish from beginning to advanced levels, and introduces students to the Costa Rican health care system. The students make multiple visits to health care facilities, he said. Living with local families deepens the cultural experience and allows students to apply their language skills immediately, he said, noting that 16 nursing majors have participated.

"As we explored options for education majors, student teaching seemed to be the logical piece of the curriculum to take abroad," Markgraf said. "Beginning in 2007, education majors can complete half of their required student teaching semester abroad through our new affiliation with Global Student Teaching housed at the University of Minnesota-Morris."

GST places student teachers in 42 countries around the world, Markgraf said. This spring, UW-Eau Claire students plan to teach in Australia, Cameroon, Costa Rica, the Czech Republic, Greece, Ireland and Thailand. They will spend a minimum of 10 weeks in the countries.

"As our society becomes more culturally diverse, our students need experience teaching students of different backgrounds," said Jill Prushiek, director of field experiences for the College of Education and Human Sciences. "By student teaching abroad, they have opportunities to adapt instruction for students with a variety of backgrounds and learning styles, as well as gain a greater awareness of different educational systems."

Markgraf said the "Removing Barriers" program has been a success as more students find it possible to study abroad without it delaying their graduation.

"We're experiencing increased student mobility in disciplines that formerly saw more barrier than opportunity, and we've expanded access and witnessed increased enrollments in study abroad by our students of color," Markgraf said. "These innovations have led to significant advances in our on-campus internationalization efforts."

As an award recipient, UW-Eau Claire will be featured by the IIENetwork as a "best practice" in campus internationalization.

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JB

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