‘Study Away’ Programs Provide Invaluable Experiential Learning

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By Thomas J. Botzman, Ph.D.
Misericordia University

It is easy to see how modern technology has changed the way we conduct business, lead our lives and especially stay informed. That 24-hour news cycle, for example, has become nearly instantaneous thanks to social media websites, such as Twitter, Skype and Facebook that offer real-time updates on everything from sporting events to world affairs. It is an exciting time as our world continues to become smaller by the day.

While knowledge and information flow more freely in today’s society thanks to mobile devices and the Internet, there still is no substitute for being there and living it. It is an infinitely richer experience to learn or sharpen your foreign language skills while bartering for fresh fruits and vegetables at a traditional French marketplace, or to learn the dynamics of international commodity trading in emerging markets by being there.

Our winter commencement ceremony sent 370 more young and enthusiastic adults into the world – all eager to do great things. It is always a thrill to see the excitement of these new graduates as they launch from the safety of our campus community into a world that needs more people who will both serve and lead the Misericordia way. The Misericordia diploma serves as both a certification of good work and as a passport into an exciting future.

Several thousand students remain on campus, each working toward graduation and preparing to leave positive marks on our world. They have left campus for our annual holiday break, but will soon return to continue their education. Others, however, are beginning to acquire the stamps in their passports toward graduation. Several students will be traveling to Jamaica between semesters to participate in a service-learning trip. While there, our student volunteers will utilize the knowledge and expertise they have gained in class for the betterment of the country’s underserved population. Some may offer tutoring sessions, while others in the health or medical science programs can share their clinical expertise. Everyone one of them, though, will gain a better understanding of this challenging world.

Our students, accompanied by faculty and staff colleagues, will “go away” to learn more about our distant neighbors and our world. When they return, they will share what they have experienced with us and encourage others on campus to “go far away” in learning and service adventures.

Study abroad (or its cousin, domestic study away) provides a student with the opportunity to relate classroom learning to the real world. When we speak of the role of education, we often talk about learning how to change ourselves and our world. Getting to know other people, learning to communicate and respect across cultural lines, and speeding up personal growth are all part of becoming more adapted to changes and challenges.  At Misericordia University, we believe our students must learn to take their learning outside the boundaries of the campus as a way to develop skills and attitudes that will serve communities, careers, and neighbors. And, as the Wyoming Valley seeks to compete in global markets, we can be assured that the knowledge gained as students will serve us well in creating successful and stable careers in our future.

We have committed to doubling the number of students who study abroad within five years. Our current 30 students will grow to more than 60 annually by 2019. Faculty colleagues have worked diligently to create or enhance study abroad programs in Australia, Canada, England and Ireland. These will join our existing service abroad opportunities in Guyana, Peru, and Jamaica. Misericordia also recognizes the financial challenges programs like these may present to some students, so we have worked to create affordable programs, while also committing financial aid to students as they work toward their Misericordia degree in another country. Faculty will also work closely with colleagues at the host international institutions to ensure that credits earned are applicable to a student’s Misericordia degree requirements.

It is my vision to create an array of programs that will provide every one of our students with experiential learning. We already have substantial local volunteer sites, internships, undergraduate research opportunities, and career preparation options. By adding study abroad, we will increase our capacity to serve others while increasing the academic and personal growth opportunities for our students. Students will gain confidence, perform better in the classroom, and continue to move steadily toward graduation as they assemble a background of experiences and knowledge that supplement their personal and professional interests.

It is very quiet on campus during the break between semesters. While many of our students will celebrate the season with family and friends, it is reassuring to know that others will “go away” to learn and serve others. As residents of the Wyoming Valley, we can all be proud of the purposeful work our youth are doing and we can look forward to their contributions in the future. Please join me in encouraging our students to “go away” and in anticipating their return to campus in 2015.

Thomas J. Botzman
Thomas J. Botzman, Ph.D., is president of Misericordia University in Dallas, Pa., the oldest four-year institution of higher education in Luzerne County. Misericordia University ranks in the top tier of the Best Regional Universities – North category of U.S. News and World Report’s 2015 edition of Best Colleges and was designated a 2015 Best Northeastern College by the Princeton Review.