Study abroad programs at USF have always had to adapt to changing times and this year is no different. When the COVID-19 pandemic began, many programs were cancelled and the study abroad office made significant changes in order to navigate the resulting challenges. While the pandemic has required a great deal of time and attention to ensure the safety of all students, diversity and equity continues to play a key role in the USF Education Abroad Office. The Office’s focus on access and equity in study abroad programs has intensified over the past year, with the Education Abroad Office developing a roadmap to grow and better support diversity in its programs. The Office is currently working on a five year plan focusing on Four Pillars:
I. Student Access: Increasing access to under-represented students to engage in international education opportunities with a focus on outbound mobility.
II. Student Support: Ensuring that we are supporting our under-represented students through the study abroad cycle.
III. Workforce: Increase awareness, and support of, our staff, and grow diversity in the field of international education.
IV. Community: Outreach and collaboration with partner organizations and university stakeholders to focus on our Black and other students of color.
While the Office’s first focus will be on Black students -- who are nationally and institutionally under-represented as compared to other racial or ethnic groups on study abroad -- the pillars will allow the office to expand programming and outreach to other groups of students which may need additional support based on gender, religious background and sexual identity, etc.
Amanda Maurer, the director of the Education Abroad office, works with affiliates, exchange partners and with faculty to help in promoting students for programs. She explains some of the initiatives typically done to help prepare students before they enter another country with a different set of cultural norms.
“Students have pre-departure orientations,” Maurer said. “The students have resources that can help serve them, such as the state department website, which gives information on what it is like to be treated in a country based on race and gender in addition to giving students information about the culture they will experiencere.”
The study abroad office has partnerships with a variety of USF Offices including New Student Connections, the Office of Orientation, and other administrative units. The office also works with the Office of National Scholarships, which meets with students to help them apply for scholarships to fund their study abroad experience. The Gilman Scholarship in particular provides significant scholarships for Pell Eligible students to study abroad, in addition to merit-based scholarships, all of which open the doors to students who otherwise cannot afford it. This may help minority students who want to study abroad but are disproportionately economically disadvantaged.
Globull ambassador President Samantha Cavallaro describes recent initiatives that have been implemented into the study abroad programs.
“We have an entire committee dedicated to increasing the diversity of students going abroad. We have a “Diversity series” that features events such as Black and Abroad as well as LGBTQ+ Abroad,” Cavallaro said. “These events are typically panels that involve students of these backgrounds sharing their experiences to encourage more to feel more at ease to step out of their comfort zones.”
Cavallaro also shares how diversity enhanced her experience abroad:
“One of my programs was a semester exchange at Deakin University in Melbourne, Australia,” Cavallaro said. The university is so diverse, [which is] something great they share with USF that almost half of the students were international. I was constantly surrounded by different languages, customs, and cultures that really opened my eyes to the incredible diversity all around me.”
According to the USF Education Abroad 2018-19 Annual Snapshot, 38 percent of students who traveled abroad were first generation and 39.4 percent of students that traveled abroad were minorities across the Tampa campus. Black students tend to be underrepresented in study abroad and they represent 8.3% of USF students who study abroad. Latinx students represent 19.6% of USF students who study abroad, which mirrors closely to the overall 21.8% population of Latinx students at USF according to USF’s Historical Fact Report for the 2020-2021 school year.
Indicative of its success, USF Education Abroad Inclusion initiative supports traditionally underrepresented students and was awarded the 2019 Access and Equity award for Innovation in International Education from the Institute of International Education (IIE). According to the IIE, the Access and Equity award is “Given in recognition of innovative programs and services to make study abroad and international programming accessible and equitable for a broader student population, with a special emphasis on specific efforts that led to a strong increase in study abroad participation.” In 2017, USF also received the Excellence in Diversity and Inclusion in International Education from the national organization, Diversity Abroad.
The Education Abroad program is in the top 40 for outbound total mobility in the US according to Open Doors. There are approximately 150 students studying abroad this summer (2021), and the office is currently accepting applications for a variety of many study abroad opportunities in the 2021/2022 academic year.