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Study Away program revamped

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Last summer, Grand Rapids Community College put a freeze on study away trips and hired an outside consultant to analyze the program.

The consultant created a report documenting the program’s strengths and weaknesses and suggested ways to create additional revenue for the school.

Alyssa Contreras (left) poses with Hillery Haney (center right) and two others in Morocco.

The report noted weaknesses like a lack of clarity for who should be contacted or responsible in the event of an emergency, an absence of uniform application procedures for students, and lack of a clear process to determine institutional risk related to study away programs. The report also highlighted the lack of a centralized study away office and the problems that arose because of it, as well as no central web presence.

“Liability of the institution for students involved in programs away from campus has probably not been adequately addressed in the past,” said Michael DeVivo, a GRCC geography professor who organized trips to South America. “So the Study Away team has been tasked with working with the administration to address these concerns.”

The consultant complemented the commitment of the faculty who develop and administer study away programs. Other strengths like growth in student interest and successful existing programs were also noted.

Administrators are meeting to decide whether or not to life the freeze on the program. There will be a meeting concerning the issue Thursday.

However, when the program was active, many students were unaware of the opportunities there were to visit Morocco, South Africa, Ireland, France and Germany because all of the coordinating and most of the responsibility of these trips has fallen on the professors who are teaching the courses.

Hillery Haney, a GRCC French professor, has been organizing trips to Morocco and France for the last four years.

“I went through three different departments a year ago,” Haney said. “There was no consistency. I already had the ball rolling and they changed the rules on me midway.”

DeVivo has also experienced issues with unreliability. “In the past, there has been some uncertainty concerning various stages of the approval process here at GRCC,” he said. “Fortunately, these matters are being addressed at this time.

Despite the challenges they faced, GRCC has professors who continued these programs with little compensation for their efforts.

“What makes the program important is everything that students get out of it,” Haney said.

Haney and DeVivo both say their students benefit in the long run when they study abroad, and according to the Institute of International Education, “students who participate in education abroad experience a significant growth in interpersonal skills, academic performance, cultural proficiency, and personal growth.”

DeVivo has witnessed evidence of this. “My students say months after the experience that it was a life-changing experience,” DeVivo said. “It makes them realize that they are part of the big picture and they have a responsibility to do their part in it.”

“I think that study abroad gives people the confidence to go the next step,” Haney said. “It’s not just going and seeing the Eiffel tour, it’s what it does to you, and I think it carries over into the rest of your life. That’s why study abroad is so important.”

Alyssa Contreras, 20, went on the Morocco trip last summer led by Haney. “It really opened my eyes to the difference of life and culture across the world, and yet I also realized that they are not as different as some people may think,” Contreras said.