The Columns

Washington and Lee Wins Teagle Foundation Grant for Study-Abroad Planning

— by on July 31st, 2012

Washington and Lee University, in collaboration with Union College, of New York, and Gettysburg College, of Pennsylvania, has received a $230,000 grant over 25 months from the Teagle Foundation, of New York City, to improve learning outcomes on their respective campuses.

This latest grant follows a planning grant that the three institutions received from Teagle a year ago.

Washington and Lee will use the grant to design ways of integrating the four-week study-abroad courses in its revitalized, four-week Spring Term with student learning in the fall and winter terms, which are 12 weeks each. During Spring Term, students take only one class.

“We appreciate the support from the Teagle Foundation for these efforts,” said Marc Conner, the Jo M. and James Ballengee Professor of English, head of the English Department and program director of Spring Term. “Although the specific programs for which the three institutions are using this grant are different, the underlying focus on student learning is powerful in each instance. In all three cases, we are breaking the barrier of traditional classroom practice.”

While W&L’s focus is its Spring Term study-abroad programs, Union is working to strength integrative learning by developing a plan of study around existing curricular programs. Gettysburg plans to promote and reinforce students’ mastery of curricular goals through its First-Year Seminar/First-Year Experience program.

According to Conner, the ad hoc consortium has met several times to discuss the ways in which the specific programs can use innovative pedagogies to engage faculty and students in ways that traditional education has not accommodated.

In Washington and Lee’s case, the goal is to explore ways to extend the Spring Term study-abroad programs beyond the term’s four weeks through effective orientation programs, courses in the winter term and/or re-entry programs in the fall term.

“The goal here is to take those intensive four weeks and not have them just stop,” said Conner. “We don’t want these programs to be seen as islands but to have clear connections.”

Although shorter study-abroad programs have become more and popular at colleges and universities, many educators view them as less effective than either a semester-long or year-long immersion. Conner thinks that W&L’s Spring Term mitigates some of those issues by virtue of the kind of programs it offers.

“The difference is that in our four-week terms, you have a Washington and Lee professor leading the program rather than having the students participate in a generic program operated by another institution,” said Conner. “In addition, you have the intensive teaching and learning nature of our Spring Term, in which students are working 50 or 60 hours a week on just this one course.”

Still, the goal of the Teagle grant will be to work with faculty planning for Spring Term study abroad on extending the experience beyond the four weeks.

For example, chemistry professor Erich Uffelman requires students enrolled in his Spring Term course, Science in Art, held in the Netherlands, to prepare by taking a three-credit course in the preceding winter term.

“I’ve copied that model and required a full three-credit seminar this past winter term for those students who were going to Ireland for the West of Ireland course,” Conner said. “The students got to know each other. They bonded. When we got to Ireland, they already knew a lot more about Irish culture than many students do after they leave. This is a really good way to augment a short study-abroad experience.”

In some cases, students could continue the experience with faculty-led research in the summer after Spring Term, followed by an honors thesis the following fall.

“In that way, it becomes almost a two-year practicum and starts to approach graduate-level education, starting with the Spring Term abroad but building it into the larger program,” Conner added.

Through the Teagle grant, several workshops will be held in the fall and winter of the 2012-2013 academic year for faculty scheduled to lead Spring Term study-abroad programs.

The Teagle Foundation was established in 1944 by Walter C. Teagle, longtime president and later chairman of the board of Standard Oil Co., now Exxon Mobil Corp. The foundation intends to be an influential national voice and a catalyst for change in higher education to improve undergraduate student learning in the arts and sciences.

News Contact:
Jeffery G. Hanna
Executive Director of Communications and Public Affairs
jhanna@wlu.edu
(540) 458-8459

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