Faculty-led study abroad complements traditional style

Since the departure of advisor Brigette Thompson in August, interviews have been held and a new advisor is expected to be hired by the end of November. Four candidates have been considered for the position. As the search process continues, the administration is encouraging faculty to develop faculty-led study abroad programs. These programs will not replace the traditional study abroad experience, but will instead complement the existing structure.

Nanette LeCoat, director of international programs and associate professor of French, said that study abroad is about how that experience will fit into a student’s academic profile.

“This is why advising takes as long as it does,” LeCoat said. “We want to make sure the program a student chooses is academically valuable and fits into their interests.”

LeCoat stressed that the university commits a significant fiscal amount to study abroad. She said that the study abroad department does an admirable job tailoring a program to a student’s needs, keeping in mind internships and practical experience.

“We are in a peak period of applications. It is unfortunate that we are understaffed in the study abroad department, but we are still highly committed to study abroad,” LeCoat said.

Michael Fischer, vice president for academic affairs and dean of the faculty, outlines the process of hiring a new advisor.

“First, we make sure that a replacement is necessary. We develop a description of the position and then we launch a search, with advertising as well,” Fischer said.

Bladimir Ruiz, associate professor of Spanish and director of the Trinity summer program in Madrid, said that faculty-led programs do not aim to change the whole system or the culture of the university.

“Sometimes it can be difficult to assess outside programs,” Ruiz said. “With faculty-led programs, we are able to maintain and ensure the quality of a Trinity education. We know that grades, not just credits, will transfer, and that the Trinity community can come together to experience study abroad as a group.”

Fischer said that the administration is not pushing faculty-led programs but is glad the conversation is happening.

“Yes, we are interested in adding those types of programs to the mix,” Fischer said. “We take results from successful programs and use them as models.”

The Madrid summer program is the pioneer faculty-led program, currently in its ninth year. Ruiz is in his fifth year as director and instructor of the program. He said that a deterrent to faculty-led programs can be the cost, as financial aid does not apply to summer or winter courses.

Ruiz outlined the process to approve a faculty-led program.

“First, you must design a curriculum. Then, you present a proposal, which includes name of the course, title, explanation and a syllabus,” Ruiz said. “Then, this goes to the University Curriculum Council (UCC), and they ask a series of questions.”

Nina Ekstein, professor of French and member of the UCC, said that the basic role of the UCC is to ensure sufficient academic content.

“We authorize credit assigned to any class,” Ekstein said, “whether it is a faculty-led program or not. There is always the possibility that the proposal could be sent back if revisions are necessary.”

Ekstein emphasized that the UCC is present to maintain a high level of academic quality on Trinity’s campus.

“It is the faculty’s responsibility to ensure standards with curriculum, not the administration’s,” Ekstein said.

The faculty-led program to Cuba has not yet met with the UCC, but is required to do so if credit is to be approved for coursework.

Katsuo Nishikawa, assistant professor of political science, is leading the trip to Cuba with visiting professor Mario Gonzalez. Nishikawa said that a tentative meeting is scheduled with the UCC for Nov. 1 but that the date could change.

The discussion about faculty-led programs continues as the demand to study abroad stays constant and a popular option.

“I would attribute the rise partly to word of mouth,” LeCoat said. “There was a slight downturn after 9/11, but I think that has dissipated. Study abroad is also driven by majors.”