The Work, Internships, Volunteering and Research Abroad (WIVRA) Subcommittee had a lively discussion with NAFSA attendees at the 2018 Annual Conference in Philadelphia. The conversation highlighted participants’ common concerns about ensuring high-quality experiences for students and advocating for experiential education across campus.
Many education abroad professionals struggle to advise and prepare students for international internship and service programs. They also see a need for more comprehensive guidelines and practical templates to use with employers or volunteer agencies hosting U.S. students as interns or volunteers. Participants in the meeting seek resources for vetting providers of WIVRA programs, including what questions to ask, what checkboxes to tick off, how to verify quality, and which standards to reference. When it comes to medical or health-related experiences, education abroad administrators expressed concern about ethics and want to make sure that the potential impact on recipients is positive and appropriate. A discussion of various organizations that may have expertise to share included:
Advocating Across Campus
It turns out that our political differences aren’t the only things keeping us from effectively communicating with each other: unsurprisingly, we’re also still struggling to break out of our campus silos when it comes to finding common ground on the advantages of WIVRA programs. Numerous participants pointed out that experiential education is still not recognized as legitimate educational experiences by some colleagues on campus and they shared success stories and common challenges for advocating for the academic benefit of experiential education with some faculty and other administrative departments. Agnes Scott College is one example of an institution that has embraced experiential education and made it a central tenet of their academic model of learning:
“Agnes Scott wants every student to experience study abroad, internships and/or mentored research, immersive experiences that link the classroom to a wider world. In support of this goal, the college has provided Advantage Awards of up to $3,000, which can be used to support students in completing these activities. Beginning with students entering fall 2015, all first-year students have a global study experience during the spring of their first year.’ (https://www.agnesscott.edu/about/consumer-information/student-achievement.html)
The benefit of such an approach is that it commits various units across campus to promoting, providing, supporting, or integrating WIVRA programs into the curriculum and throughout a student’s college career. NAFSA can facilitate the wider adoption of valuing experiential education by producing talking points tailored to different stakeholders, and elevating WIVRA-related activities, resources and sessions within NAFSA and to the general public. Upcoming sessions at the 2019 Annual Conference and various Regional Conferences will include collaborations between study abroad offices, community engagement offices, career services and other campus stakeholders. Readers are encouraged to share their challenges and success stories in the Comment section below.