Virginia Tech President Charles L. Steger today praised the introduction of the Senator Paul Simon Study Abroad Foundation Act of 2007, legislation to establish a national study abroad fellowship program.

The bill, introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives yesterday by Reps. Tom Lantos (D-Ca.) and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fl.), chairman and ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee respectively, would create a national fellowship program, increasing the numbers of students studying abroad to one million per year. The program would be administered by an independent entity and would provide key support for necessary modifications at institutions of higher education to allow all college students the opportunity to study abroad.

“Virginia Tech began its own campaign to prepare our students more effectively for the global workplace with the implementation of our International Strategic Plan in 2004,” Steger said. “Federal government support will enable us to accelerate the internationalization of our campus, helping us to graduate more students who are competent and confident in an international environment.”

Last year, 900 Virginia Tech students traveled abroad for all or part of the academic year, or for special summer or semester-break programs. “Study abroad is a life-changing experience,” said John E. Dooley, vice provost for Outreach and International Affairs. “The world view that these students bring back with them helps enrich not only their own lives, but also adds a global perspective to the classroom here, enhancing the educational environment for their fellow students.”

The legislation is named after the late Senator Paul Simon (D-Ill.) who was a strong proponent of international education. His efforts led to the creation of the bipartisan Commission on the Abraham Lincoln Study Abroad Fellowship Program. Many of the recommendations contained in the Commission’s 2005 report Global Competence and National Needs: One Million Students Studying Abroad, are included in this legislation. Currently, about 200,000 undergraduate students study abroad each year. The bill’s objectives include ensuring that the demographics of the study-abroad participation will reflect the U.S. undergraduate population and that an increasing portion of study abroad students will go to currently nontraditional study abroad destinations.

“One million students studying abroad per year will transform our country in a positive and powerful way,” said Peter McPherson, president of the National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges (NASULGC, of which Virginia Tech is a member) and former chair of the Commission on the Abraham Lincoln Study Abroad Fellowship Program. “For the American workforce to be competitive in the global marketplace, our students need experience in and knowledge about the world outside the U.S.”

Last year a similar bill in the Senate received overwhelming bipartisan support and had 46 co-sponsors before the session ended. Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Norm Coleman (R-MN) will re-introduce a Senate bill in the near future.

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