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International Fellows Program earns national award

Argentina2013aAn innovative program that allows University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire students and faculty to engage in research and service throughout the world has received a prestigious award from the Institute of International Education.

UW-Eau Claire's International Fellows Program will receive IIE's 2014 Andrew Heiskell Award for Internationalizing the Campus. The award will be presented in March in New York City during an IIE conference that highlights best practices in international education.

"UW-Eau Claire's pillars of excellence — academics, international education, research and service — all come together in the International Fellows Program," said Dr. Karl Markgraf, director of the Center for International Education. "It provides our students and faculty with incredible experiences and makes a difference in the lives of people around the world. We're thrilled that IIE, a highly respected organization with a worldwide reach, is recognizing the meaningful impact IFP is having on our efforts to internationalize our campus."

Capitalizing on the strength and success of high-impact academic experiences long offered at UW-Eau Claire, the International Fellows Program supports international student-faculty collaborative research, creative activity and service-learning. It sends students, in partnership with faculty and staff mentors, abroad for intense international learning experiences that range from three weeks to several months in duration.

The IFP was designed to provide students with experiences that allow them to grow academically and personally, said Markgraf, one of the architects of the program, which already has supported 144 students in their international projects.

"These are very meaningful projects," Markgraf said. "They provide students with experiences that prepare them for professional careers, for future graduate programs and for life."

The program — now in its fourth year — is funded by the Blugold Commitment. Approved in 2010 by UW-Eau Claire students and the UW System Board of Regents, the Blugold Commitment is a differential tuition increase that will help to preserve and enhance the distinctive UW-Eau Claire educational experience. Providing high-impact learning experiences for all UW-Eau Claire students is one of the goals of the Blugold Commitment.

To date, the IFP has supported 44 projects that involved 144 students and 48 members of the faculty and staff. Students and faculty mentors from numerous disciplines — from journalism to art to computer science to biology — have participated in IFP-funded projects, which have taken students to places as varied as Peru, China, Sri Lanka, Tanzania, Macedonia, South Africa, Thailand and the Bahamas.

"Through IFP, we provide students and faculty with immersion experiences in world regions that are outside the realm of traditional study abroad destinations, and in academic disciplines or creative pursuits that are typically not represented in traditional study abroad programs," said Chancellor James C. Schmidt. "By supporting student-faculty teams as they pursue research or creative projects, the program meets the needs of those who want to continue their research or project while immersed in another part of the world."

While UW-Eau Claire students regularly study abroad, and faculty and students have long pursued international research, no formal campus programs were in place to support students who want to be part of international research or service projects, said Dr. Karen Havholm, assistant vice chancellor for research. The IFP addresses that need, while also providing more opportunities for international research and immersion in various cultures, she said.

The IFP provides faculty and students with airfare, in-country transportation and lodging, and stipends of $1,000-$1,500, Markgraf said, noting that the financial support allows students to participate in an international experience when they may not otherwise be able to afford to do so.

Seventy percent of students who engage in IFP projects have had no previous study abroad experience, Markgraf said, adding that a higher percentage of male and lower-income students enroll in IFP than in more traditional study abroad programs.

"This program is helping the university meet its goal of extending the reach and impact of international education to a broader campus population by drawing in students who otherwise may not study abroad," Markgraf said.

IFP projects have taken students to all parts of the globe, providing them with learning opportunities that go far beyond anything that could be done within the physical borders of a college campus, Markgraf said.

In some projects, the students also have a lasting impact on the regions they visit, Markgraf said. For example, journalism students helped a village in the tiny nation of Moldova start its first public radio station. Social work students spent time in South Africa studying burnout among professional caregivers who provide services for children orphaned by the HIV/AIDS pandemic; their data will help develop training and support programs for caregivers. And biology students studying fish species on San Salvador Island, Bahamas, spent time educating youth there on the value of and need to conserve the environments of their island.

While a minimum three-week immersion experience is central to all IFP-funded projects, students also must spend significant time prior to their travels learning about the people and culture of the region they will visit, Markgraf said. IFP ensures that students and faculty have appropriate knowledge of the host country's culture and language to ensure a successful project. When students return to campus, faculty continue to work with them on research and projects. Students also must present their research during UW-Eau Claire's student research event.

Markgraf said many faculty say IFP projects helped them to establish relationships with colleagues in different parts of the world, connections that can help further their scholarly work, create new opportunities for their students and strengthen their curriculum.

Wanrudee Buranakorn, assistant professor of photography, was among a team of art faculty and students who spent three weeks in Thailand as part of an IFP-supported project. While there, the faculty-student team installed an exhibit of Buranakorn's photography in Bangkok, the first time her work was exhibited in her native Thailand. The project gave students experience planning and producing an international art exhibit, and it allowed Buranakorn to share her work with an international audience, Markgraf said.

"The IFP has exceeded all our expectations," Markgraf said. "As the IIE Heiskell award indicates, UW-Eau Claire is continuing to build its reputation as a worldwide leader in international education."

For more information about the International Fellows Program or UW-Eau Claire's Heiskell award, contact Karl Markgraf at 715-836-4411 or