Willamette Receives Mellon Grant

Willamette University, Occidental College and Fisk University will share a three-year, $479,000 grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to establish an innovative study abroad program in Oaxaca, Mexico, on the campus of Benito Juarez University.

"Students who study abroad typically do so in isolation," said Tori Haring-Smith, dean of the College of Liberal Arts at Willamette University. "This grant will allow students to integrate courses on their home campuses with home stays and service learning based in Oaxaca. The consortium approach also recognizes the strength of each campus. Willamette, for example, has extensive experience in Latin America and about 50 percent of our students study abroad before graduation. Occidental has 30 percent of students traveling abroad but is experienced in service learning. Fisk brings the diversity component to the mix and new energy that is common in institutions just beginning to explore the possibilities of study abroad."

What distinguishes this particular program is the creation of a unified curriculum based on the themes of race, resources, community and culture, taught collaboratively by faculty members at each domestic campus and by the study abroad group director located at Benito Juarez University. Service learning and community-based education are important elements in the curriculum, as is collaborative research projects that involve more than one site.

According to Haring-Smith, more than 70 percent of all students studying abroad do so in Western Europe. "We are not saying we need to downplay the importance of Europe. We are saying there is significant value in studying Latin America and Mexico in particular because of its historical, cultural and economic ties to the United States."

The study abroad consortium has financial implications for all participants. Approximately 80 percent of students attending Willamette and Occidental receive significant financial aid packages. Students may use this aid when they participate in programs approved by study abroad offices of the respective institutions. "This is an expensive proposition," said Haring-Smith. "It means that almost $1 million a year in financial aid leaves the Willamette and Occidental campuses to pay for those students in overseas programs. One way to offset this loss is to establish our own study abroad sites and share the administrative costs with consortium partners.

"We have great faith in this model," Haring-Smith said. "So much so that based on what we learn in Oaxaca, we plan to develop a second center in Africa. We think this design will become a national model for study abroad in the next decade."

For hundreds of Willamette alumni who participated in study abroad opportunities, the recognition from Mellon for the quality of the international program is especially meaningful because of the recent loss of a colleague. "International Education at Willamette University is one of the jewels in the crown," said University President Lee Pelton. "We would be remiss if in acknowledging this gift from the Mellon Foundation we did not recognize the contributions of the late Kelly Ainsworth. As the former director of this program, Kelly devoted much of his professional life to his passion for international studies and our program flourished under his tender care."