Faculty live like students for first-of-its-kind international training
The 11 faculty members learning to build, launch, and lead study abroad programs found that their roles had been reversed.
They were sleeping where their students would sleep. They were eating where their students would eat. Doing laundry, catching trains, attending classes — all the tasks their future students would one day have to navigate — they experienced themselves as participants in a first-of-its-kind immersive development program this summer at the Steger Center for International Scholarship.
President Tim Sands set the tone at the beginning of the workshop. “The priorities that are key to the university’s future intersect here at this workshop in Switzerland,” he said, speaking of the interconnection between international education opportunities and Virginia Tech’s goals of becoming a top-100 global research university and of making Virginia Tech more accessible and affordable for students.
“Your presence here ties into the Virginia Tech Advantage, which ensures that students’ means, experience, or background do not become obstacles to the full college experience. Studying abroad is part of that experience,” Sands said.
The program, developed by the Global Education Office and the Center for Education, Teaching, and Learning (CETL), allowed the participants from across the university to experience the study abroad environment and forge connections with local entities. “You can’t do that by staying home in Blacksburg,” Sands said.
Global Eduation Office Director Theresa Johansson said the workshop was designed to help faculty members learn location-based nuances such as how to integrate local resources and community partnerships into lessons and how to navigate the logistics of living and teaching abroad.
For nearly a week at the Steger Center, the university’s base of operations for a growing number of undergraduate and graduate international education programs, participants had opportunities for one-on-one consultations with Johansson and Sara Steinert Borella, the executive director of the Steger Center, as well as other facilitators from the Global Education Office and CETL. Over dinner, on train rides, or with an afternoon gelato, ideas were developed and refined and schedules were created.
Through interactive workshops, participants learned strategies for budgeting, scheduling, study abroad pedagogy, and partnering locally. To learn how to navigate in unfamiliar cities, lead day trips, and schedule activities, they spent hours exploring the nearby cities of Lugano, Switzerland, and Milan, Italy.
“Coming and being present really helps us envision the partnerships that can happen and to gain a personal appreciation for the holistic experience of study abroad education — which is very difficult to imagine while embedded within your normal ecosystem in Blacksburg,” CETL Director Kim Filer said.
Steinert Borella said one of the primary goals of the workshop was to connect the faculty members to the resources at the center and through the Global Education Office and CETL. “Now they know,” she said. “They’ve been here. They’ve seen it. They’ve done it themselves. From learning the logistics to building relationships, everything they participated in while staying at the center gives them a personal experience with facilitating study abroad.”
A common mission
For several faculty members, the mission of Virginia Tech Advantage reflects the passion and desire that brought them to Switzerland.
For instance, Sweta Baniya, assistant professor in the Department of English, joined the program to find ways for underrepresented groups to have more access to study abroad opportunities.
“When I was in college, I always wanted to study abroad, but I just thought that was not for people like me,” Baniya told Sands when she explained why she had joined the program. “When I told my brother that I was doing this faculty development program, he asked me why and said, ‘Study abroad is for rich kids.’ I am here because I don’t want that to be the case.”
Like Baniya, Amy Price Azano, director of the Center for Rural Education and professor in the School of Education, wanted to create more opportunities for populations that have been historically underrepresented in international education.
“My passion is making opportunities for students from rural backgrounds,” Azano said. “As someone who came from a rural background myself, I get that studying abroad is likely not even on your radar as a possibility. The faculty development program was an opportunity for me to come and think about what it would mean to have a faculty-led group for first-generation rural students to come have the full experience of being a Hokie and an undergrad.”
Aligning with the goals of the Virginia Tech Advantage, the Global Education Office — like the Steger Center, part of Outreach and International Affairs — offers study abroad scholarships, funded by support from the university and generous donors. Over the 2022-23 fiscal year, the office awarded nearly $500,000 in scholarships to over 150 students, including many from underrepresented populations.
Scholarship opportunities are just part of the equation. While at the Steger Center, the faculty members also participated in a budget workshop to examine ways that costs can be curtailed through thoughtful program design.
The Global Education Office is holding its Study Abroad Fall Fair on Tuesday, Sept. 26. At this fair on the Drillfield, students can learn more about the study abroad scholarships offered and opportunities to study abroad. Faculty members can connect with office staff to learn more about training and workshops like the Steger Center workshop.
Participants from across the university
In addition to Baniya and Azano, participants in the faculty development workshop included
- Joell Eifert and Brian Wiersema, faculty members from the Department of Food Science and Technology, and Vivica Kraak and Nicolin Girmes-Grieco from the Department of Human Nutrition, Foods, and Exercise
- Amy Allen, assistant professor in elementary education
- Carlos Perez-Torres, collegiate associate professor in the College of Science
- Khadijah Queen, associate professor in the English department
- Kerry Redican, director of the undergraduate public health program
- Mohammed Seyam, collegiate assistant professor of computer science