Campus / Community / International / News / February 3, 2016

Study abroad initiative focuses on underrepresented students


In an attempt to provide study abroad opportunities for underrepresented students, the Eleanor Stellyes Center for Global Studies has moved this year to increase the number of ethnically underrepresented student who study abroad.

The Campaign, called The Road Less Traveled, launched on January 15th with the first event being The Road Less Traveled Global Summit, held on January 26th will aim to increase participation in study abroad, international research, international-based careers and global citizenship for underrepresented students.

Each student who attended the event received both an invite in the mail and an email for the event. The students selected were taken from the Registrar’s list of African American, African, Latino, Native American and multiracial origin. These groups of students have consistently been underrepresented in study abroad.

Study Abroad Coordinator Le’Passion Darby initiated the Campaign. “Sometimes good ideas just come to me in the middle of the night, and it was just one of those nights,” she said.

Darby’s enthusiasm to create the initiative was inspired by her late elementary school principal Mrs. Marva Collins. Marva Collins, head and founder of Westside Preparatory School on the westside of Chicago, was featured on the first presentation slide at the Global Summit. Mrs. Collins’ school was of her own invention after working in the Chicago Public Schools system for 14 years.

“She started it from scratch in her home,” Darby said. According to the New York Times, Mrs. Collins saved up $5,000 dollars to start the school that enhanced learning for low income, African American students that the public schools labeled as unteachable.

Darby wanted to connect her recently passed mentor’s goals to her own. “So I thought of the community here of ethnically underrepresented students and I thought, what can I do for them to honor Mrs. Collins?”

One of Darby’s goals is to educate ethnically underrepresented students about opportunities in higher education that are not often pursued. She wants them to know that they too can pursue international endeavors including study abroad.

“I don’t think it’s barriers that keeps ethnically underrepresented students from studying abroad. I think it’s “perceived barriers”. The Global Summit was meant to eradicate some of the myths that students have about study abroad participation,” Darby said.

At the Summit, students experienced the one-on-one study abroad encouragement that Darby had with Mrs. Collins. Speaker representatives, which included staff from IES Abroad, Institute for International Education, U.S. Department of State, Peace Corps, and University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, engaged with students in conversation about their future study abroad plans.

The Road Less Traveled program helps break down these barriers by allowing students access to free passport photos, funding for the passport application, priority appointments with the study abroad office and a deadline extension of one month.

Darby also invited multiple Road Less Traveled Ambassadors to mingle with the students and share their study abroad experiences. There are eight Ambassadors total, and five are currently studying abroad.

Road Less Traveled Ambassador and senior Deyon Hightower traveled to Dublin, Ireland to study in the Dublin Writers program. When Deyon studied abroad he did not have The Road Less Traveled program to aid him with the application and instead relied on the Global Studies Center to get his foot in the door and out of the country.

“First of all, they convinced me to go,” Hightower said. He also mentioned how encouraging Darby was, in that she specifically pushed Deyon to apply. “I did app for everything for study abroad in two weeks, and I still got accepted.”

Hightower did not receive the Gilman Scholarship, but the Global Studies Center helped him receive $8,000 from an anonymous donor to fund his travel.

“I know this is going to sound cliché, but just do it,” Hightower said. He stated he would be interested in further travel if he was not a senior.

Another ambassador for the program, senior Catlin Watts, said her main barrier to studying abroad in Buenos Aires, Argentina was that her parents were worried about her traveling abroad. The popularity of the Buenos Aires program at Knox provided her with some security, which could only be made possible with the Global Studies’ advertising.

Besides helping students with the application process, the Road Less Traveled program clears the floor to a new discussion on underrepresented students studying abroad.

“One of the things that I heard from students when I first started working at Knox was that they don’t see images of themselves within the campus; that’s why it’s important for me to have posters of ethnically underrepresented Ambassadors who had studied abroad placed throughout the campus during the Campaign,” Darby said.

“What really concerns me was that Native American students are not even on the radar in study abroad participation.” Darby said, explaining that Native Americans have an extremely low participation rate. However Darby stressed that she will work to improve the percentages throughout her career.

“Ethnically underrepresented students need to know that they too can study abroad!” Darby said. “I can only imagine being a Black student who did not go to a Westside Preparatory School, Providence St. Mel High School, or Clark Atlanta University. They’ve probably been told what they cannot do instead of what they can do. If they have been told what they can’t do, then of course they might think ‘study abroad is not for me’ or ‘I can’t afford it’ or ‘There no people who look like me around the world,’ when actually we are the majority around the world, not the minority.”

Lucy Rae Dorn, Co-Photo Editor
Callie Rouse
Callie Rouse graduated in 2017 as a international relations major and double minor in creative writing and history. She has been involved in journalism since her sophomore year in high school and worked for The Knox Student for four years. She worked as a News Editor her sophomore to senior years. During her freshman year Callie served as Student Government Reporter.

Tags:  off-campus study study abroad underrepresented students

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