Virginia Tech was among 40 institutions from across the nation selected for an Institute of International Education American Passport grant. The grant, intended to promote access, inclusion, diversity, and equity in study abroad, will enable 25 Virginia Tech students to obtain a U.S. passport at no cost. The Global Education Office will match the grant and fund an additional 25 passports, bringing the total to 50 students.

Students must be in their first year of college and be receiving or eligible to receive a Pell Grant to apply for the program. Restricting the program to first-year students allows for adequate time to incorporate study abroad at some point during a student’s academic career.

“The First-Year Passport Project allows us to reach underrepresented and underserved students who may not otherwise consider an international experience,” said Rachel Fitzgerald, associate director of the Global Education Office. “By covering the cost of a passport, we remove an initial barrier and hopefully make opportunities like studying abroad a little more possible for students.”

The full cost of a passport book with photos and standard processing and delivery is about $160.

Passport Project 2021 flyer
Graphic designed by Jackie Settele, a senior in mechanical engineering.

To ensure that students successfully obtain their passports, the Global Education Office has partnered with the Virginia Tech Passport Acceptance Facility, located in Squires Student Center, to deliver sessions on the application process. Along with access to workshops, social and community-building events, and specialized advising sessions, participants will also be connected to peer mentors.

“By having peer mentors, participants will have a community of fellow students who can offer support during the first-year transition to Virginia Tech. They’ll focus on cultivating citizenship and intercultural learning,” said Brandon Senior, a doctoral student in higher education who has been developing the program’s peer mentorship component.

Additionally, information and tips about applying for the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship will be discussed. The Gilman Scholarship is offered by the U.S. Department of State to broaden the student population that studies and interns abroad by supporting undergraduates who might not participate because of financial constraints.

“We realize that the passport is just the beginning, and in order to truly help students actualize their experiential learning abroad, we need to support them throughout their entire journey. This includes identifying funding opportunities, applying for scholarships, and connecting to resources both on and off campus,” Fitzgerald said.

Students interested in joining the First-Year Passport Project are encouraged to submit the interest form by Dec. 1. Completed nominations are due to the Institute for International Education by Dec. 15. Awardees will be announced in spring 2022.

The Institute for International Education received nearly 200 applications in the inaugural year of its Passport Project. Virginia Tech was among 32 institutions recognized by the institute in 2019 with a Seal of Excellence for achieving its Generation Study Abroad commitment goal of increasing the number of students studying abroad.

The Global Education Office, part of Outreach and International Affairs, plans to continue the Passport Program beyond 2022 pending additional funding. “After this initial grant-funded year, we hope to sustain efforts and continue offering the Passport Project to more students annually,” Fitzgerald said. “Yes, one of our main goals is to increase study abroad participation. Ultimately, though, we want to show students that it is possible to travel and engage with communities globally. Getting passports in their hands is a step in that direction.”

For more information or to support the First-Year Passport Project, contact the Global Education Office.

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