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US: New MOOC, grants from study abroad branch

The US State Department’s study abroad branch will shortly award its first study abroad engagement grants and is in the process of developing a MOOC, both to help institutions build participation in internationalisation. The branch has also recently completed an evaluation of the state-backed Gilman scholarship programme.

The MOOC will be a “valuable tool" in helping institutions develop a study strategy, Leeanne Dunsmore said. Photo: The PIE News.

The branch will begin releasing modules for its capacity-building MOOC in November this year, to coincide with International Education Week, with further modules to follow.

“This is a valuable tool in terms of helping institutions create a structure to formulate a study abroad vision or strategy”

“This is a valuable tool in terms of helping them create a structure to formulate a study abroad vision or strategy, so there are some strategic elements of this but there are also nuts and bolts,” Leeanne Dunsmore, chief of the study abroad branch, told The PIE News.

Modules will cover topics ranging from student safety, programme development and how to fund internationalisation initiatives.

The branch is also working to develop studyabroad.state.gov, the website it launched last year to provide information about study abroad, by adding back-end functionality enabling institutions to create profiles on the website.

The branch has just closed its first round of its study abroad engagement grants competition, which will help institutions to develop international initiatives. The branch will give 18 grants of up to $50,000 to higher education institutions to develop

The competition received an overwhelming 176 submissions, of which around 18 will receive grants.

So far, 36 institutions have been selected as finalists across a “broad spectrum” of initiatives, some focusing on boosting participation in study abroad in a particular discipline or student demographic, while others aimed to establish an international office, Dunsmore said.

The branch is feeling energised after its evaluation of the Gilman Scholarship Program, which found that the programme is achieving its goals of increasing diversity in study abroad – both in terms of the student groups going and in their study destinations, she added.

The Benjamin Gilman Scholarship Report looks at the impact of the government-administered scholarship, which was established in 2001 to provide grants to underrepresented undergraduate students of limited financial means to complete study or internships abroad, particularly in non-traditional destinations.

According to the report, Gilman scholars reported having developed a “global perspective” and remained interested in engaging in international initiatives after studying abroad.

Of the students who studied abroad in 2013-14, 44% were first-generation college students, a demographic which is traditionally underrepresented in study abroad.

A fifth of these scholars were Hispanic, compared with less than a tenth of students who studied abroad nationally in 2014, as shown by Open Doors data. An additional 18% were black, and 14% were Asian or Pacific Islanders, compared with just 5% and 8% at the national level.

The study found that nearly three quarters of scholars studied outside Western Europe (71% – significantly higher than the national average of 47%).

“I think again the evaluation report is demonstrating that the Gilman programme is increasing opportunities for students of limited financial means to study abroad and it has broadened the opportunities both for their academic engagement and their career choices they are choosing to make,” Dunsmore concluded.

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