This year marks the 50th anniversary of Dartmouth's Off-Campus Programs. In October, in recognition of that milestone and as part of an annual review to strengthen Dartmouth's programs, Professor Carol Folt, dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, visited five of Dartmouth's Off-Campus Programs in London, Barcelona, and South Africa.
Accompanied by Lindsay Whaley, associate dean for international and interdisciplinary studies, Folt met with students, Dartmouth faculty directors, professors and academic leaders at Dartmouth's partner institutions, and program support staff. "We spoke with so many impressive people during our trip," Folt says. "Each of them contributes to the success of Dartmouth's programs and the experiences of our students."
You've met with nearly 50 students in three cities. What are they saying?
They all express sincere gratitude to their host families and to the faculty, for all that they are doing. They emphasize their pleasure at being totally immersed in a new culture or a new subject, and say over and over how much they want to understand more about the people and places they visit. And they all talk about how their experiences abroad put their Dartmouth lives in perspective and made them realize how many opportunities they have.
Nathan Bruschi ’10 (Clifton Park, N.Y.), a participant in Language Study Abroad, and Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Carol Folt in Spain at the University of Barcelona in October. Bruschi told Folt: “Here life itself is its own classroom. I can feel that I’ve grown and changed as a person.” (Photo by Steven J. Smith)
What was most meaningful for me on this trip was talking with students who are so excited about discussing their experiences that they don't want to stop! As an educator, this is the gold standard.
What about the faculty?
The excellence of our Off-Campus Programs results from the vision of faculty who conceive and direct them. I am proud of the diversity and quality of the programs they have created. I am also struck by how hard they work. They are on the job 24 hours a day. They're responsible for not only the academic experience, which they take very seriously, but also for each student's welfare outside the classroom. They develop trips and other excursions to enhance the program and spend many evenings and weekends on outings with students. Many of them leave their own families in Hanover, which we all know is very hard. But instead of talking about the difficulties, every faculty member I spoke with talked about the rewards and their ideas for improving programs in the future. Finally, I am impressed with the commitment to our students that so many others have shown—including staff in our off-campus office, faculty from institutions abroad, host families, people who arrange homestays and assist with trips, visiting lecturers, and so on. It takes a lot of people to make a successful program.
Your own scholarship has taken you overseas. What do you hope students learn from their experience?
It is exciting to work and study overseas. As a biologist, my research has taken my students and me to places as far away as China and New Zealand. These trips have enabled us to make novel scientific advances by providing us access to habitats far different than ours in New England. Also, by working with colleagues overseas, we have developed lifelong relationships that make us part of the global world of scientists.
Katherine Amato '07 gets acquainted with Coreid nymphs on the Biological Sciences FSP to Costa Rica, where the natural environment serves as a laboratory. Amato says, "The FSP introduced me to tropical field ecology, and my amazing experiences on the program played a significant role in directing me toward a Ph.D. program and a career in field primatology."
I hope our students take similar things from their own experiences—significant new knowledge, expansive views of the world, and lifelong friendships. We know these programs can be very satisfying intellectually—what could be better than studying art history by visiting museums and walking the streets of Paris, or learning about the power of volcanoes by hiking high in the Sierra Nevada, or discussing scriptwriting, acting, or lighting after watching plays together in the London theater district?
In the long term, I hope our students come away with a global view of their place in the world. For a student returning from Pretoria, that might mean going beyond asking, "What do South Africans think about Americans?" to "What do South Africans think about South Africa?" to "What is the diversity of South African thought about their country?" If students learn to truly walk in the shoes of people from other parts of the world, I think the faculty will feel they've done their job.
What do you hear from alumni?
Almost all alumni I meet talk about their off-campus and international learning experiences as having been pivotal during their time at Dartmouth—they remember people, they remember places, and they remember faculty from those life-changing experiences.
What's in store for the future?
My dream would be for every Dartmouth student to have a meaningful international learning opportunity. The deans and I would also like to add programs in new areas of the world. We have a number of strong, long-standing programs in Europe, but few in Central America, South America, or Africa. The faculty would like to expand in Asia, in India, the Middle East. And they'd like to see more interdisciplinary programs, like the ones in New Zealand or Morocco. There is always more to do.
By STEVEN J. SMITH
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Last Updated: 12/1/08