More HBCUs Expanding Their Global Studies Programs

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by Tina A. Brown

Twenty-one-year-old Gabrielle Whisenton had dreams of studying abroad, but she couldn’t visualize how she’d be able to do it financially until she received a presidential scholarship.

That funding established at Savannah State University by President Cheryl Davenport Dozier allowed Whisenton, a junior, to travel with 13 other students and two professors to Nova Scotia, Canada. They went to investigate the link between that country’s population of Black residents who had retained portions of their African language and culture and Blacks in the United States from the Gullah/Geechee culture in South Carolina and Georgia who had done the same.

The experience left an indelible mark on Whisenton. She now considers herself a global citizen who has developed a cultural acumen academically that she may not have obtained if she hadn’t traveled abroad to interview the small community of Blacks in Canada. As a group, she said, they regularly pay homage to their ancestors in everything that they do.

“We met people who still speak their native tongue from Sierra Leone,” Whisenton said. “I came back with a different mindset that there are still people of African descent in other parts of the world that didn’t lose their culture.”

Whisenton’s experience offers a foot print for a new wave of students attending Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) who are studying abroad. The institutions are expanding their global studies programs in part because the leadership at those institutions.

To help HBCUs establish more global citizens, the U.S. Department of Education awarded the American Council on Education a three-year grant to explore internationalization efforts. The goals of the project are to identify the factors that “enhance and impede the internationalization process at HBCUs and to disseminate findings from this action research project to the broader HBCU community,” said Gailda Davis and Brad Farnsworth of ACE.

Colleges and universities of all types are increasingly accelerating internationalization programs, according to a 2011 ACE survey of 3,357 accredited degree-granting institutions.

Between 2006 and 2011, the percentage of doctoral, master’s and baccalaureate institutions that administer service abroad opportunities for students increased by at least 13 percentage points, the survey said.

Programs that make students more aware of the importance of internationalization at HBCUs are contingent upon the commitment of the leadership. Those efforts might get a boost at Dillard, Howard, Lincoln, North Carolina A&T, Savannah State, Tuskegee and Virginia State universities, all participants in an ACE project to “accelerate the globalization process.”

Teams from each of those institutions are working with ACE to “identify promising policies, programs and structures that encourage campus internationalization.” The findings of this project and strategies for enhancing campus internationalization efforts will be shared with the larger HBCU community this summer during a national conference on internationalization at HBCUs,” ACE said.

Savannah State has become a signature institution in global studies recognized by ACE, said Dr. Emmanuel Naniuzeyi, an associate professor of political science and chairman of the university’s International Center.

“In many institutions there is a gap between the rhetoric of leaders and the commitment of leaders,” he said. “Savannah State sets the example for internationalization.”

During its international day, on April 11 the university will host a Global Citizenship Forum. David Kibler, the foreign secretary and cultural attache at the French Consulate in Atlanta, and Ambassador Amina Salum Ali, the permanent representative of the African Union to the USA will address students and faculty about the importance of global citizenship in this 21st century by highlighting ways students and staff can get involved in global affairs in Africa, Asia and Europe.

Naniuzeyi said he has witnessed growth in the programs that allow students and staff to study abroad. In 2001, there were six students and that number grew to 20 students in 2009. Dozier, who participated in such efforts at the University of Georgia, created a presidential scholarship for international scholars. The number of students studying abroad last summer jumped to 62 students. The university has also set aside funds so that university professors can travel with their students to places like India, Malaysia, Costa Rica, Canada, China, Brazil and Ghana.

Dozier set a higher bar for her students and staff earlier this year. “One of my visions is to see us significantly increase our student participation in [studies] abroad and student exchange programs,” she said. “If we are truly preparing our students to be well-rounded global citizens prepared to study, work and research anywhere in the world, we must begin today strengthening our international ties.”

Farnsworth said Dozier’s approach is in sync with ACE’s goals to encourage internationally savvy college graduates. Employers may ask for students with certain skill sets, including whether a student has studied abroad. “The demand is real.”

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