Resourcefulness and mentoring for underrepresented populations studying abroad

Resourcefulness and mentoring for underrepresented populations studying abroad

There is much we can do to improve our efforts in mobilising socio-economically challenged students, so that they too may reap the benefits of study abroad. Texas Christian University invests millions of dollars in scholarships for Community Scholars; underprivileged high school students from a range of underrepresented populations. The aid TCU provides goes beyond finances; logistical support and mentoring are part of the package.

Study abroad is a unique and powerful experience that affords eye-opening, challenging, and experiential learning opportunities. When people study abroad, they live abroad – indoctrinated to a new culture and country. We also know that study abroad continues to draw particular populations such as women and economically privileged students. Those of us in international education must find ways to encourage and fund socio-economically disadvantaged populations to study abroad in order to prepare our brightest for the global realities that they will undoubtedly face.

Creating opportunities

One model for sending non-traditional students abroad is the TCU Community Scholars Program, which provides more than $3m annually in scholarships. Founded by Dr. Cornell Thomas in 1996 with the first graduating class in 2000, the TCU Community Scholars Program fully funds 40 scholars per year, including study abroad. Tuition, room or board, books and study abroad are all included in the package. Today, TCU receives over 300 applications from 11 area high schools. The high schools represent diverse populations and schools that are not represented at TCU. Of the 300 applicants, 180 were accepted to TCU, 60 were invited to interview for the Community Scholar Program and 42 Community Scholars where accepted to TCU for the 2015–2016 academic year. Ninety percent of the scholars graduate from TCU in four years and 100% graduate in four and a half or five years. One third of the scholars pursues graduate studies, including medical or law school.

While study abroad is not required, it is heavily promoted and is instilled in the scholars from the very beginning, including the application process.

“Studying abroad has changed my world. This unique experience opened my eyes to seeing a world beyond Fort Worth. Immersing myself in the Italian culture enriched my appreciation for that culture and even my own. Since embarking upon this adventure, I have a desire to continue exploring and learning about our world. This opportunity has given me the confidence to go wherever life takes me to fulfil my dreams.”
– Janette Quezada, 2015

Cultural enrichment and support

TCU’s Associate Vice-Chancellor for Inclusiveness and Intercultural Services, Dr. Darron Turner and Ms. Timeka Gordon have enriched the Community Scholars Program by integrating cultural aspects of the programme, including advising and mentoring for scholars. As Dr. Turner explains, financial packages will not ensure success. You have to provide the cultural and mentoring support to guide the students through their academic careers.

“The Community Scholars Program gave me the opportunity to expand my horizons in ways that I never thought imaginable at that time in my life. Yes, the scholarship made it feasible to attend a private, prestigious University like TCU. It did so much more than this. It gave me a group of peers and mentors who were with me every step of the challenging road to graduation. It also gave me the financial opportunity and positive encouragement to study abroad. I was able to study Geology in Edinburgh and Scotland, and Spanish in Seville. What scholarship programme allows a student the many opportunities that Community Scholars gave me? Instead of limiting me, my mentors gave me the space to spread my wings while nurturing me in a safe environment. Without the Community Scholars experience, I would not be who I am nor where I am today and for that I am forever grateful to Community Scholars.”
– Christina Ramos, TCU graduate

Diverse challenges call for resourceful solutions

In addition to strong mentoring and financial packages, study abroad offices must be prepared to be resourceful in assisting socio-economically challenged students with the array of steps required to study abroad. For example, advisors in TCU’s Center for International Studies have found that even though the financial means are provided, most often students do not have direct access to their funding stored in their student account. As a consequence, something as simple as making a flight reservation becomes a challenge. These students rarely have credit cards. We have even discovered that suitable luggage for a semester away is not at their disposal. In addition to these logistics, parents whose first language is not English experience anxiety by not being able to directly ask our staff questions. All of these pieces, and more, must be considered when working with disadvantaged students.

Through our internal accounting procedures we are able to book flights for students and, once the scholarship money is in their account, we credit the cost back to our office. Faculty and staff are most willing to loan luggage to community scholars and, at a parent’s request, interpreters are provided to answer specific questions. These are simple and yet very helpful steps for socio-economically disadvantaged students.

The study abroad fair

More and more Community Scholars are going abroad. As a consequence, Inclusiveness and Intercultural Services, in conjunction with the Center for International Studies host a study abroad fair specific to Community Scholars. The scholars and their parents are invited to attend in order to prepare for the period abroad.

Passport Services is present at the fair to assist students in obtaining a passport (TCU also provides funding), staff answer parents’ questions, and assist students in completing application forms and making flight reservations. In turn, we ask the Community Scholars to create some kind of cultural project so our staff and advisors can learn more about them.

Perhaps the importance of ensuring socio-economically students have the opportunity to go abroad is best summarised by a TCU student:

“I was afforded the opportunity to study in Seville, Spain during the fall semester of 2013. Initially, the mere fact that I would be away from my family and friends for four months was very hard to overcome. Popular movies and TV shows often depict travelling abroad as a dangerous experience for a young individual. However, my semester in Spain was the complete opposite. I was welcomed into a culture that believed that the family is most important, time does not equal money, and that there are more important things than keeping up with the Kardashians. My thinking was opened far past anything I could have read in a text book. I was able to find commonalities within American and Spanish culture, see the effects of centuries of Muslim influence, recognise the importance of the Café culture, and even appreciate the joy of taking a walk down the river. Community Scholars have the amazing opportunity to study abroad; I believe they are doing themselves a disservice if they do not take advantage of that. After my semester abroad, I was confident to converse in another language, find a connection with a person regardless of their culture, navigate successfully though countless countries, and overall see that the world is comprised of more than what is centred within Tarrant County.”
– Gifton Milburn, 2015

As advocates of study abroad, we are all responsible for ensuring students of all backgrounds, cultures and economic status have the ability to go abroad. Underrepresented students often bring rich and informed experiences and perspectives critical to addressing the global realities of today.

Jane Kucko is the Director at the Center for International Studies at Texas Christian University, United States; Darron Turner is the Associate Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs at Texas Christian University, United States.

The spring issue of the EAIE member magazine Forum explores equity in access to international higher education. If you are an EAIE member, you can download a digital copy from the EAIE Member Centre and your very own hard copy of Forum will be arriving shortly. Non-EAIE members can sign up now for a 2015 membership and get access to past copies of Forum magazine online, as well as other EAIE publications