Innovative international programs ensure Spiders experience the world

May 27, 2022


Students who travel abroad often rate it as one of the most impactful experiences of their undergraduate education. But not all students can travel and some may be intimidated by the prospects of traveling internationally.

To increase study abroad access for students who may be reluctant to take on international travel or whose academic requirements make study abroad difficult, the Office of International Education created EnCompass. The program connects faculty and at least one student who has studied abroad with students making their first international journey.

The program was awarded a 2022 IIE Andrew Heiskell Award for Innovation in International Education in the “Widening Access for International Education” category. The Institute of International Education award recognizes the most innovative and successful models nationwide for developing and expanding education. 

“In a typical year 65% of Spider graduates have studied abroad, but that means 35% of our students are at risk of graduating without international experience due to concerns about finances, academic scheduling, and the unfamiliarity of international travel,” said Martha Merritt, dean of international education. “EnCompass helps to eliminate these barriers and provides the first of what we hope will be many opportunities to travel abroad.”

Students in Todd Lookingbill’s class “Future Cities and the Environment” studied in South Africa in May. “It’s a great program for students that may not be able to fit it into their schedule, can’t afford it, or are otherwise hesitant to undertake a study abroad experience,” said Lookingbill, associate professor of geography, the environment, and biology. “We packed a ton into the three-week travel component of the program.”

A highlight of the program was the intercultural exchange where students participated in activities and shared meals and stories with peers from the University of Cape Town and other program partners throughout the city.  

“The students gained an appreciation that many of the challenges being confronted in Cape Town are not that different than those facing us here in Richmond, or in cities, in general, around the world,” Lookingbill said. “They also gained an appreciation of travel, in general. Like any travel, not everything went smoothly as we missed some flights, dealt with the COVID pandemic, and rearranged itineraries on the fly at times. Even that was part of the experience.”

EnCompass is not the only International Education program to earn recognition this year. The Association of International Education Administrators Innovation Award in Internationalization recognized UR for its innovative approaches to campus wide International Education Week programs during the pandemic. 

Due to the pandemic during the 2020-21 academic year, International Education week, which focused on India, was extended over a longer time period and adapted to hybrid events. The celebration began in November 2020 with students suggesting a creation of foods in the University’s dining hall and ended in March 2021 with the virtual appearance of comedian and social commentator Hasan Minhaj and a performance of South Indian Carnatic music. Other events included well-attended lectures on “A History of Protest in India” and “India: Environment Undone.”