Maja Whitaker Granada
UNM senior and Global Education Office student employee Maja Whitaker (right), recently traveled to Granada, Spain. She helped expand the outreach efforts for Education Abroad by making classroom presentations to students.

Mary Anne Saunders, special assistant to the president for global initiatives, announced that University of New Mexico has been officially accepted as a Generation Study Abroad partner, an initiative that was officially launched by the Institute of International Education (IIE) this spring.

The mission of Generation Study Abroad is to grow participation in U.S. education abroad programs. In a letter from February addressed to Generation Study Abroad Project Director Wagaye Johannes, UNM President Robert Frank wrote:

“When I assumed the presidency in 2012, I realized that UNM is very well positioned to be a leader in global education and research. We are the flagship university in a border state that has historically been a gateway to Latin America…I have made internationalization a campus-wide priority, and consolidated and reorganized our international initiative within a newly expanded Global Education Office. We have initiated UNM 2020, a comprehensive strategic planning process, which includes a major focus on global education that addresses many of the objectives of Generation Study Abroad…We would be delighted to partner with IIE in this worthy endeavor.”

Generation Study Abroad has set a goal of sending 600,000 American students annually to study abroad by 2020. If that goal were met, it would more than double the 2011-2012 total of 295,000 U.S. students participating in education abroad programs. The IIE initiative currently has 308 international education and institution partners.

“We are very excited that UNM has joined the efforts of many other highly regarded international partners that are participating in Generation Study Abroad,” said Ken Carpenter, UNM education abroad associate director. “Becoming a partner in this initiative is complementary to our own efforts to continue sending more UNM students on education abroad programs. The timing couldn’t be better.”

The partnership coincides with UNM’s recent announcement that it has already sent 711 UNM students on study abroad programs during the 2013-14 academic year, exceeding Frank’s goal of sending 670 students abroad by 2015 one year in advance of that deadline. GEO expects to release its final study abroad numbers in late August, when the current academic year officially closes. As part of UNM 2020, Frank has set a final goal of tripling UNM’s 2011-12 baseline figure of 559 students studying abroad; by 2020, GEO intends to be sending at least 1,680 students abroad annually.

In addition, becoming an official partner of Generation Study Abroad requires setting specific actionable goals, a process Frank initiated almost two years ago via UNM 2020. To accomplish those targets, GEO has already implemented aggressive actions, including creating new financial assistance to help students pay for education abroad programs, and increasing outreach to diverse student groups.

“Two years ago, we knew that expanding UNM’s international services was needed to stay competitive with other top universities in the country,” Saunders said. “Part of that process has been to connect with our underserved student groups and learn how to better support their interest in seeking an international education.”

As a Hispanic-Serving Institution (HSI), UNM and GEO have a responsibility to develop strong outreach programs that expand and diversify the pool of candidates for education abroad programs. GEO’s Education Abroad staff recently completed a successful series of surveys and conducted two student focus groups to gain specific insight on the challenges that underrepresented students are facing when forming their study abroad plan.

“This past year, we worked closely with programs such as El Centro de la Raza, the Accessibility Resource Center, American Indian Student Services, and African American Student Services to further understand how we can encourage and better prepare these students for studying abroad,” Saunders said. “Part of what we learned from these students is that we need to not only recruit a more diverse group of UNM students to study abroad, but we also need to help them understand how experiencing diversity in other countries will benefit them in years to come.”

Additionally, GEO is in the initial stages of exploring a partnership with the New Mexico Educators Federal Credit Union to implement a study abroad savings account program for incoming freshmen. The account would allow freshmen to save money for their trip, helping them to financially prepare for those educational costs. Currently, UNM plans to match the funds that students save, dollar-for-dollar. If the program were implemented, it would help address one of the top concerns students have about studying abroad: Can they afford it?

“Students often think they can’t afford to study abroad, but in fact, with some careful budgeting, saving and proper planning, we can help them find the funds necessary to finance a majority, if not all of their trip,” Carpenter said. “There are scholarships and grants available for study abroad students. Most of the time, students also can use their financial aid and scholarships, such as the lottery, to help finance their trip. We highly encourage students to visit our office and ask our advisors for information about how they can finance their study abroad program.”

The Education Abroad staff remain committed to providing more institutional support services and incentives for faculty leaders. Over the past two years, Carpenter has initiated and led workshops for faculty, designed to prepare them for leading a group of students to another country by addressing safety, diversity and legal requirements before they go. Carpenter and his staff also closely assist the university’s academic advisors and faculty members to ensure that course work taken abroad is easily transferred back to UNM and pre-approved to meet university and academic major requirements.

The UNM Education Abroad office is located at 2120 Mesa Vista Hall. Walk-in advising hours are held daily from 1 to 3mp.m. Appointments are encouraged but not necessary to speak with an advisor. Education Abroad 101 sessions will be held every Thursday during the summer session from 1 to 1:30mp.m. Students can call 505-277-4032, email, or visit study abroad for more information.