High school students across the country are preparing for Advanced Placement exams by poring over notes and practice tests, but 75 Blacksburg High School students will be taking a different approach.

Preparing for their Advanced Placement European History exam, students from Colin Baker’s class plan a field trip to Virginia Tech to interact with experts in political science and urban affairs.

The first Essential Europe Symposium at Virginia Tech is March 20, a daylong event coordinated by the high school and the Global Education Office, part of Outreach and International Affairs.

“With Brexit happening and the European Union being in the news a lot, why not really expose the students to what’s happening in modern Europe?” Baker asked. “I’ve never taken my own students on a field trip before because there aren’t a lot of European history things in Southwest Virginia — but there are a lot of European historians just down the road.”

Originally from Edinburgh, Scotland, Baker has taught at Blacksburg High School for 22 years and currently teaches four sections of the European history course. In this video, he and other symposium planners speak about the program’s goals.

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Virginia Tech faculty members from the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences and the College of Architecture and Urban Studies will lead discussions about policies, security and defense, sustainability, national identity, and current events.

The key activity is a mock European Union Council. Students will divide into groups, each representing a different country, to demonstrate the challenges countries face when advancing national interests while also considering those of allies.

Baker also hopes the program will expose his students to the idea of studying abroad, which he says is a real possibility for them in just a few years. Virginia Tech students who have studied abroad will be on hand to zero in on the subject.

Several of the university faculty members involved – including Scott Nelson, associate professor of political science and graduate studies – lead study abroad programs at the Steger Center for International Scholarship in Switzerland. “We hope to give the students some additional knowledge about the things scholars are researching relative to where Europe has been, to where it’s now, and to where it’s headed,” Nelson said.

Scott Nelson, associate professor of political science, in his office surrounded by books.
Scott Nelson, associate professor of political science and director for graduate studies

Along with Nelson, the symposium will feature:

  • Ralph Buehler, associate professor of urban affairs and planning.
  • Caitlin Cook, European programs coordinator with the Global Education Office.
  • Todd Schenk, assistant professor of urban affairs and planning.
  • Yannis Stivachtis, associate professor of political science and director of international studies.


“They’re also going to be introduced to faculty, some of whom have worked for international organizations like NATO, the United Nations, the World Bank, and the World Trade Organization. These are potential career paths for students,” Nelson said.

Apart from being well-prepared for the exam, Baker hopes the students leave with something more, as the symposium objectives mesh with his goals for the class.

“It’s not only about ‘ace the exam and get college credit.’ It’s learn how to write well, how to think and be analytical with evidence, and how to present an argument and defend it,” Baker said. “All of that makes more sense when it’s not just dry and theoretical things of the past. These are real events that affected people back then, and they affect modern Europe today.”


Written by Rommelyn Coffren

Video by Rebecca Poutasse, a senior majoring in multimedia journalism

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