WKU awarded IDEAS grant from U.S. State Department for study abroad project

Western Kentucky University has been selected to receive an IDEAS (Increase and Diversify Education Abroad for U.S. Students) grant from the U.S. Department of State’s Capacity Building Program for U.S. Study Abroad.

WKU is one of 26 colleges and universities from across the United States, selected from 132 applicants, to create, expand, and/or diversify American student mobility overseas in support of U.S. foreign policy goals. This U.S. Government program is funded by the U.S. Department of State and supported in its implementation by World Learning.

WKU’s project, Counties to Countries: Building Study Abroad Capacity for Rural Americans (C2C), is designed to rethink study abroad from the perspective of students from small, rural communities.

Dr. John Sunnygard, Associate Provost for Global Learning and International Affairs, said studying abroad can have a significant impact on the graduation rates of rural students. “The chances of that one who doesn’t study abroad of them actually completing their degree within four to five years is about 35 to 40 percent. The chances of the student who studied abroad completing their degree is about 85, 86 percent,” he said.

He added that rural students who study abroad also perform better academically and dramatically expand their career opportunities. “They get more focused, they have more self-confidence, they have a much broader way of looking at their academic studies,” Dr. Sunnygard said.

Through the grant-funded project, WKU plans to raise awareness about study abroad opportunities and plans to better understand and overcome any barriers and obstacles students from rural Kentucky face about international study.

“We will hire a graduate assistant to work in our office to do research on students from rural parts of Kentucky to better understand what their concerns are and best suit their needs,” he said.

The IDEAS Program seeks to increase the capacity of accredited U.S. colleges and universities to create, expand, and diversify study abroad programs for U.S. students. In addition to the IDEAS grant competition, the program also offers opportunities for faculty, staff, and administrators at U.S. colleges and universities to participate in a series of free virtual and in-person study abroad capacity building activities.

“The U.S. Department of State is committed to expanding study abroad opportunities for Americans of all backgrounds studying at colleges and universities across the United States. Americans studying abroad serve as citizen ambassadors by building relationships within their host communities, demonstrating American values, and countering stereotypes. They also gain critical job skills abroad that in turn benefit their home communities. We are committed to continuing our strong support for U.S. colleges and universities as they build their study abroad capacity now, in anticipation of a strong return to U.S. student mobility in the future,” said Heidi Manley, USA Study Abroad Chief, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.

For a full list of 2021 IDEAS grant recipients, as well as information on a free IDEAS webinar series on building study abroad resources for U.S. campuses, please visit the Capacity Building Program for U.S. Study Abroad website at www.studyabroadcapacitybuilding.com. Funded projects are supporting such activities as developing new international partnerships and programs, training faculty and staff, internationalizing curriculum, creating resources to engage diverse student groups in study abroad and creating virtual exchanges. Once international travel resumes in full, these IDEAS grant recipients will be better equipped to deliver impactful and inclusive study abroad programs around the globe.

For information about other study abroad resources and other exchange programs offered by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, contact ECA-Press@state.gov and visit https://studyabroad.state.gov/.

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