Innovative study abroad program wins national award

For Rezina Hollis, a senior majoring in social work, her first study abroad program during 2023 Winterim was an opportunity learn more about the history of Black communities and the current social issues facing minorities in England. 

For Yazmin Cruz, a senior majoring in education and Spanish and minoring in ESL (English as a Second Language), the trip was a chance to gain more knowledge about the Black Lives Matter movement in England. 

The two UWM students were part of an initiative, started in 2021, that recently won a national award for its innovative study abroad approach from the GoAbroad program. 

A tour guide provides the student group with information on the Jamaica Wine Club, which was the first coffee shop in London. It was also the site for the selling and capturing of enslaved Black Africans. (Photo courtesy of David Pate)

The UWM project started in 2021 when the U.S. State Department awarded the Center for International Education a $35,000 IDEAS (Increase and Diversify Education Abroad for U.S. Students) grant. 

The grant is designed to increase the diversity of university students studying abroad to reflect the country’s diverse population and to encourage international understanding.  

UWM was one of only 26 institutions to receive the grant that year out of 132 that applied. 

The university used the funding to support a co-taught modular course that looked at the Black experience in the U.S. and internationally. This on-campus course, titled Black Lives Matter: A Global Comparative Study, was offered in the spring and fall of 2022. It will be reintroduced in the fall of 2024. In addition to the on-campus course, the study abroad program stemming from the course’s themes will be offered again in Winterim 2024.

“Racism isn’t only something that affects the U.S., said Yomarie Castellano, CIE study abroad program manager and part of the team that wrote the grant.  “We wanted to look at how Black Lives Matter is playing out in other areas of the world.”

Portia Cobb and David Pate led the study abroad tour to England.

Integral to the success of this initiative was the collaboration between various pillars of the university, she said. “The dedication of the faculty who orchestrated the on-campus course, the insightful leadership of David Pate (associate professor of social work) and Portia Cobb (associate professor of film, video, animation and new genres), combined with the resourcefulness of the teams from Global and International Studies and the Center for International Education Study Abroad were complemented with invaluable support from the CEA CAPA Education Abroad team,” Castellano added.

Cruz and Hollis agreed that it was fascinating to see how the experiences of minorities in England were similar and different from those in the U.S. England, for example, has its Windrush generation, said Hollis, made up families that descended from mostly Caribbean migrants. They came to remedy a labor shortage in the late 1940s but were later mistreated or unjustly forced to leave England.  

“I gained so much knowledge about Black Lives Matter and racism and how race is a universal topic,” Hollis said. 

Museums and historic sites

The students toured England’s museums and historic sites with an emphasis on the experiences and culture of minority populations.  “It was interesting to see how race can be interpreted through shapes and colors, whether it’s a museum or even fashion shows,” Cruz said. 

“The program provided me with more information and experience about a culture other than my own,” Hollis said. “I learned about not only the history of the Black communities in England, but also the current social issues.”  

One highlight of the study abroad program was a visit to Bristol, where protesters in 2020 had pulled down a statue of Edward Colston, an 18th century merchant and philanthropist who built his fortune on the slave trade. 

“That was a big awakening for me because I’d never heard of him before,” Cruz said.  

Students learn from each other

The study abroad group, which included Black, Hispanic and white students, also learned from each other. “I know about the experiences of my parents and grandparents and how they’ve been treated,” said Cruz, whose parents grew up in Mexico. “But it was a great thing to learn about the Black community and learn from their experiences.”  

“It was nice to be able to connect and travel with people that wanted the same thing,” Hollis said.   

The UWM faculty and staff who developed the courses, taught them and led the study abroad program collaborated across different disciplines.  

“I think this has been a transformative experience for everyone involved,” said Sharon Gosz, director of study abroad in the CIE. “It was really encouraging for the faculty, seeing the impact on the students and how they had grown.”  

“Honestly, it’s been one of the highlights of my career in international education,” said Castellano. “It was a privilege to work with colleagues in global studies and international studies and the faculty from the different disciplines and the program provider (CEA CAPA) in England.”  

Unique approach

Winning the award for the innovative study abroad trip was just the icing on the cake for the program, and its unique approach to designing a curriculum, according to those involved. 

“I would challenge you to find another course in the UW System where faculty members came together from five different disciplines to create a course around a single topic,” said Christine Wolf, assistant director of global studies and international studies.”  

Faulty members from several disciplines developed the courses. They included Ermitte Saint Jacques, assistant professor, and Gladys Mitchell-Walthour, associate professor, of African and African Diaspora Studies; Jennifer Kibicho, associate professor of nursing; Pate and Cobb. Pate and Cobb led the study abroad program to England, which involved 13 students from diverse backgrounds. The CEA CAPA study abroad program coordinated the logistics and helped organize the schedule. 

Future locations for this program may include other areas like Brazil or Puerto Rico, according to the organizers.  

For more information about this award-winning study abroad program, and to discover how you can be art of the next cohort, visit the CIE website. All majors are welcome, and students have the option to apply their financial aid.

Top Stories