Virginia Tech students show their Hokie pride in Antarctica.
Virginia Tech students show their Hokie pride in Antarctica.

Virginia Tech was among 32 institutions recognized with a Seal of Excellence by the Institute of International Education, given to colleges and universities participating in the Generation Study Abroad initiative that have achieved their commitment goal of increasing the number of students studying abroad.

Generation Study Abroad aims to double and diversify the number of U.S. students studying abroad by the end of the decade. Over 800 colleges and universities, organizations and companies, and governments from around the world have signed on as partners.

Virginia Tech joined the initiative in 2017 with the Global Education Office pledging to increase study abroad participation from less than 17% to 23% of the student body. More than 1,400 Virginia Tech students studied abroad last academic year, an increase of almost 15% from the previous year.

Guru Ghosh, vice president for Outreach and International Affairs, said, “The Global Education Office, in collaboration with the colleges and various university offices, has made substantial efforts to move the needle forward. It’s exciting to see those efforts begin to pay off as more Virginia Tech students pursue these transformative learning opportunities abroad.” 

bar graph that shows 5 year participation trend
Virginia Tech study abroad 5-year participation trend.

According to the 2016-17 Open Doors Report on International Educational Exchange, participation nationally rose 2.3%, with 332,727 Americans studying abroad for academic credit. The report shows that one in 10 U.S. students studied abroad during their degree program.

Prior to making its commitment, the Global Education Office spent months identifying barriers that may prevent students from studying abroad. “We developed strategies based on that research to address concerns and launched a multifaceted campaign to reach more students,” Director Theresa Johansson said. “There’s more work to do, but we’re encouraged by the progress and appreciate what our campus partners have contributed to the effort.”

Robust portfolio of faculty-driven programs

Virginia Tech faculty representing various disciplines deliver nearly 70 study abroad courses each year, many of which take place during the summer and winter sessions. Several of these signature programs have contributed to the increase in student participation. 

Study abroad participation by college during the 2017-18 academic year.
Study abroad participation by college during the 2017-18 academic year.

The College of Engineering’s Rising Sophomore Abroad Program, for example, offers concurrent tracks in the summer to locations on five continents. In six years, the program has grown from sending 24 students to nearly 180 students, making it the largest study abroad program at Virginia Tech. The program was recently awarded the Senator Paul Simon Spotlight Award by NAFSA: Association of International Educators.

“The Rising Sophomore Abroad Program is a strong example of innovation in curriculum development and raises the bar for Virginia Tech’s global education portfolio,” Johansson said.

The long-standing Lugano, Switzerland, program from the Pamplin College of Business sends about 120 students each year. The program, one of the few semester-long programs led by Virginia Tech faculty, is offered in the fall and spring semesters. The fall program includes a four-week service-learning component in Africa. Since the program’s launch in 2002, approximately 1,000 students have participated.

Additionally, a resurgence of programs at the Steger Center for International Scholarship has contributed to an increase in students studying at the Virginia Tech facility in Riva San Vitale, Switzerland. Historically, the center has served as the home base for programs in architecture. Eleven programs are now offered at the center, covering such study areas as geosciences, communication, visual arts and design, neuroscience and medicine, sustainable policymaking and planning, and political science.   

For more information on study abroad opportunities, visit the Global Education Office at 526 Prices Fork Road, across from the Surge Space Building.  

Written by Rommelyn Conde Coffren