Six staff and faculty from Tusculum College recently returned from a trip to the Central American country of Belize and set to work on plans for implementing what they saw, discovered and learned on the trip as part of the campus wide effort to internationalize the Tusculum College curriculum.
Robin Fife, assistant professor of social science, Dr. Katherine Stone, assistant professor of mathematics and geology; Robin Tipton, assistant professor of chemistry; Dr. Geir Bergvin, associate professor of marketing and director for the Center for Global Studies; Dr. DiAnn Casteel, associate professor of education and Dr. Tom McFarland, associate professor of business administration met recently to debrief the trip and begin looking at ways to implement international experiences in Belize into existing curriculum at the College.
McFarland said that his experience with Belize confirmed that it is an excellent country to visit for a first international experience. “English is spoken everywhere, currency is easily transferable and there are no issues with electrical voltage conversion as in other areas,” he said. Adding that these three items eliminate routine daily frustrations often associated with international travel. “It’s a great country for the first-time international traveler,” he said.
Bergvin added that the company that hosted the group, ProWorld Service Corps, treated the group well, and “took us to places that gave us more of a perspective of their culture as well as showed the group various opportunities that are available for student learning experiences.”
ProWorld is an organization that specializes in international experiences for students and mission workers focused on sustainability.
Casteel added that one of the advantages of utilizing ProWorld’s services is that a mixed group of students with different educational goals could easily travel together and have opportunities in their own fields of study or interest because of the variety of programs ProWorld offers.
According to Tusculum College’s Interim President Dr. Russell Nichols, one of Tusculum’s highest academic priorities is the advancement of opportunities for students to have one or more international experiences before graduation. “It is envisioned that all Tusculum students and faculty, in five years will be assured of that opportunity, regardless of their financial ability, and this goal has been embraced by faculty, students and Trustees” said Nichols.
The Center for Global Studies was formed in spring 2008 with the mission to “enhance the capacity of individuals and organizations to address local and global challenges through building relationships with communities, inductions of higher learning and organizations globally.”
This most recent trip to Belize was part of the initial efforts to learn more about international experiences for students and begin to introduce faculty to ways in which they might incorporate such an experience into their existing curriculum, said Bergvin.
The next challenge is going to be for the group to begin working toward implementing what they learned into real classroom experiences, but for Casteel, the excitement of the trip has pushed her forward to write an internship proposal for her education students.
“The proposal I have written is to set up a program that would allow our education students to do 40 hours of their required practicum hours in Belize, teaching in Belize schools,” she said. “We could allow for the students to receive practicum credit hours for two courses,” she added. Under her proposal, students would fund their own travel, easing the financial burden on the College.
For others, there is more work to be done before implementation to begin. Stone said she would love to begin a program where her students could study the ecology of a developing country. “Belize is going to rapidly develop, and it would be a perfect place to study the policy making end of protecting the ecology during development.”
McFarland would like to have students provide a management workshop for entrepreneurs in Belize. “I would like to do something sustainable, possibly an annual workshop so that there could be follow-up with the business leaders and entrepreneurs in the community. In these workshops, the business students could provide needed expertise in areas where those resources don’t currently exists,” he added.
Fife, who has led student trips to various parts of Belize on four different occasions, is preparing to once again to visit Belize with one of her service learning classes later this year.
“We try to connect students to their fields of study through their service projects while we’re there,” she said. “Everything we do in Belize is to enhance and build on what students have learned in the classroom and to provide them with an opportunity to experience the world in a way they might not otherwise have the chance to do.”
As the faculty begins their efforts to increase opportunities for student international experience at the College, Bergvin is already working on two planned faculty trips to gain even more exposure for the international program.
Coming up are two faculty opportunities to travel to northeastern Italy and to Costa Rica/Nicaragua in June.
In order to reach the goal of enhancing students’ global competency, the College recognizes that it must first increase the global competency of its faculty members, said Bergvin. “The international program at Tusculum College is designed to be interdisciplinary in nature and is aimed at improving student learning outcomes and broadening faculty and staff development opportunities.”