November 25, 2005: Headlines: Figures: COS - Peru: Economics: University Administration: Study Abroad: Deleware Online: "I make the point that what people don't know can hurt them," says Peter McPherson

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Peru: Special Report: MSU President and Peru RPCV Peter McPherson: February 9, 2005: Index: PCOL Exclusive: RPCV Peter McPherson (Peru) : November 25, 2005: Headlines: Figures: COS - Peru: Economics: University Administration: Study Abroad: Deleware Online: "I make the point that what people don't know can hurt them," says Peter McPherson

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"I make the point that what people don't know can hurt them," says Peter McPherson

I make the point that what people don't know can hurt them, says Peter McPherson

A special commission appointed by Congress and President Bush is spearheading an effort to boost the number of college students who study abroad to 1 million annually by 2017, according to a report issued last week by the Commission on the Abraham Lincoln Study Abroad Fellowship Program. "College students will be, in large part, the future leadership of our country. Students in the 21st century are not fully educated if they're not globally competent." Former Michigan State University President Peter McPherson served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Peru in the 1960's.

"I make the point that what people don't know can hurt them," says Peter McPherson

Programs key to national security, Congress told

The News Journal

Increasing the number of American students who study abroad -- particularly in places such as Turkey, Africa, the Middle East and the former Soviet Union -- will do more than provide a memorable learning experience to those students. Federal officials think student exchange programs are vital to national security, economic competitiveness and diplomacy, particularly in under-represented countries.

A special commission appointed by Congress and President Bush is spearheading an effort to boost the number of college students who study abroad to 1 million annually by 2017, according to a report issued last week by the Commission on the Abraham Lincoln Study Abroad Fellowship Program.

American undergraduates need to be more in tune with the world around them, the report stated, and participating in foreign exchange programs can provide that skill.

"I make the point that what people don't know can hurt them," said M. Peter McPherson, commission chairman and president emeritus of Michigan State University. "College students will be, in large part, the future leadership of our country. Students in the 21st century are not fully educated if they're not globally competent."

The bipartisan commission has asked the federal government to make $50 million available annually, beginning in 2006, to fund a Lincoln program that would provide a national competition for student fellowships and also provide funds directly to colleges and universities to support their study abroad programs.

Along with sending students to popular study abroad destinations such as Spain and France, special emphasis would be put on studying in developing countries.

The funding would increase incrementally over five years until it reaches $125 million annually in 2011.

A 'life-changing experience'

Last year, McPherson said he spoke with hundreds of students after they returned from study abroad. He said they described it as a "life-changing experience."

"Institutionally, when you have 2,000 students go abroad and then come back, it changes the way professors teach or interact," he said. "It adds a global richness to campus that few students going abroad can't provide but a large number do."

More than 190,000 American undergraduates study abroad annually, according to the report. They are predominantly female, white, and from four-year colleges and universities. Representation from minority, male, and less-affluent students -- as well as from community colleges -- lags.

"We need to be inclusive of all higher education, community colleges and minority-serving institutions," said William B. DeLauder, executive director of the commission and a past president of Delaware State University, a historically black college in Dover. "When we look at the demographics, we find there's a big difference."

Besides ethnic minorities, other under-represented students are those studying in highly structured disciplines, such as engineering, he said.

Location critical

Two-thirds of Americans studying abroad do so in Europe, with fewer students studying in large, sometimes less politically stable and often strategically important parts of the world such as Latin America, Africa, the Middle East and the former Soviet Union.

"In terms of national interest, students should study in countries where issues of national security are most important," DeLauder said.

Fellowship Program Manager Jessica Townsend Teague said she's "concerned about safety everywhere," even in the more popular cities, such as Madrid and London, that have been targeted by terrorists. But that shouldn't stop students from going there.

"Any university that gets grants or fellowships will have to have a quality program and a risk-security program in place," Teague said. "We're going to go forward inch by inch, establishing high-quality programs with the best security."

"There are vast areas in Africa and Asia that are untouched by violence," she said. "If we judged the city of New York or Washington, D.C., [by the news] we wouldn't give a fair picture of the totality of a culture or a country. This is precisely why we have to go out there."

Melissa LaVenia, 21, a senior economics and Spanish major at UD, went to Cuba in January 2004 as part of the school's only group to study there.

"It struck me that this is probably the only chance I'd ever have to go to Cuba," she said. "Getting to see the country firsthand and not just hearing all horrible reports about it. ... I was nervous about going there. The first two weeks were culture shock.

But LaVenia said it's important for students to open their eyes and visit such countries.

"My view on the world changed significantly," she said. "... It opened my eyes to how important it is to be engaged with the rest of the world. We can improve our own society in a lot of ways."

Reaching the 1 million student mark would require increasing the annual growth rate in the number of students studying abroad by nearly 50 percent, according to the report.

"The only way we will reach this goal is if we invest in this fellowship now," McPherson said. "We're at a tipping point in education where a big push can get this done."

Delaware colleges and universities are working to increase participation in study abroad programs.

The University of Delaware's Center for International Studies is offering 72 programs abroad this year. Officials estimate that 1,530 UD students will participate in these programs.

Marion Bernard-Amos, study abroad coordinator for the Foreign Languages and Literature program at UD,said she thinks the 1 million student goal is attainable if universities receive the proper resources.

Starting early

More students are beginning to study abroad in their freshman year because they received Advanced Placement foreign-language credit from high school.

The majority of undergraduates participate in language-based programs during their sophomore or junior years.

"The earlier you can get students going, the more they'll want to go back," Bernard-Amos said. "The interest is there."

To engage students in nontraditional destinations, such the Middle East, UD introduced an Arabic language course this fall. It hopes to launch a study abroad program there.

Delaware Technical & Community College also is focusing on a nontraditional country -- Turkey.

Presidents from six Turkish colleges visited Delaware Tech last week as part of a cultural exchange designed to increase international student enrollment, faculty and professional exchanges and educational opportunities in the region.

The program is part of an ongoing exchange that sent 19 students and faculty from Delaware Tech and two other community colleges to Turkey to study last summer. This fall, Russian educators visited the school and the Bulgarian ambassador will visit Dec. 1.

Kelly Jester, 21, a sophomore business administration major, was one of the students to visit Turkey. She studied sociology and how the Turkish culture compared with American and other cultures.

"It's not really a country that a lot of people go to, and a lot of people have a negative mind-set towards them because they are near the Muslim countries," Jester said. "I got a lot more than I expected out of it."

Delaware State University has established agreements with more than 20 universities for student and faculty exchanges. They include the University of Panama, Zhejiang University City College in China and the University of Belgrade in Serbia/Montenegro.

Another 20 agreements are in the pipeline, DSU President Allen Sessoms said.

Contact Michele Besso at 324-2386 or

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Story Source: Deleware Online

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