Co-authored by:

Thomas P. Raimondi III, M.Ed., Coordinator for Leadership and Scholar Development in the OHIO Office for Multicultural Student Access and Retention (OMSAR)

Ellie Koewler, IEP Senior Campus Coordinator

The pilot iteration of the Jamaica: Service Learning program traveled with 29 students, three staff leaders and an on site coordinator in December 2015. The program was developed and led by the OHIO Office for Multicultural Student Access and Retention (OMSAR), with a goal of increasing the number of students from underrepresented campus populations in study abroad programs. The program was so popular among students, three additional iterations have been offered since the launch, bringing total program participation to nearly 80 students.

When averaged over its four iterations, 64% of participants identified as populations other than white/non-Hispanic*. According to the Institute of International Education (IIE), only 27% of students who studied abroad nation-wide in 2014-15 were considered part of an ethnic minority population (see graphic).

Gathering perspectives

Prior to the launch of the Jamaica program, OMSAR worked collaboratively with the OHIO Office of Global Opportunities (OGO) to host an annual “Experiencing Diversity Abroad” panel during International Week. The panel highlighted students from underrepresented populations that had been abroad by asking them to share their experiences with members of the campus community. OMSAR’s intention being if students heard from other students who were like them, they would then be more likely to take advantage of study abroad themselves. Each year, the conversations at these panels centered around the same perceived barriers:

  1. Lack of discussion of the intersectionality of identity while abroad/in program curriculum
  2. Affordability
  3. Establishing trust between your home community and your community abroad
  4. Fitting the trip into your academic career and graduating in four years

A non-traditional approach

Typically, study abroad programs are developed from a faculty-led perspective. Those programs meet the academic requirements for specific majors or general education and the experience revolves around the course. OMSAR decided on a different approach. They crafted a program that focused on the psychosocial elements of student development that occur when traveling abroad and minimized the barriers underrepresented students experience. After years of conducting the panel, OMSAR recognized there was an apparent need for a program that addressed the barriers for the following populations: students of color, low income, first generation college students, emancipated foster care students, and Appalachian students.

OMSAR set forth to specifically cater to these populations and utilize service as a vehicle to implement an experiential program that provided a concrete learning laboratory that aligned with OMSAR’s three student centered goals: academic achievement, leadership, and service. The following strategies were employed to encourage these students to apply and participate if nominated:

  • Cutting costs: In an effort to minimize costs passed on to students, directors did not take a salary for leading the program. Instead, the program serves as a unique professional development opportunity for OMSAR staff members. OMSAR staff members teach a “Special Topics” course each term, which was offered for the program credit, so no additional faculty were needed to run the course content.  Also, course credits for Winter and Spring Break programs are considered part of Spring Semester full-time tuition, so students were not billed additional tuition for the credit hours associated with the program.
  • …but intentional spending for perceived support and ease: In order for the directors to focus on their student population, they partnered with a third party provider through IEP (CISabroad) to handle logistics, including arranging a group flight. With much of the group having minimal travel experience, a group flight was essential to supporting students perception of safety when leaving the country. Working with a provider also simplified itinerary, budgetary planning for the directors, and provided a guaranteed timeline and expectations.
  • Scholarship accessibility: The majority of students affiliated with OMSAR are high achieving students with merit-based scholarships. OMSAR ensures students are aware of campus-wide study abroad scholarships through advising meetings and email newsletter outreach. In addition, OMSAR facilitated securing grants to cover programs fees for students in specific populations (i.e. emancipated foster care students). OMSAR also provided support in scholarship essay writing and served as references for competitive awards.
  • Dates and length: Length of program was intentionally limited to 10 or 11 days during academic breaks, so applicants and their families would not be intimidated.
  • Special population hardship: OMSAR serves a population of students that were raised in the foster care system. Providing them opportunities to participate in programming over breaks was intended to alleviate possible anxiety surrounding plans for break periods.  
  • Location: Jamaica was chosen because its proximity: it is an English speaking country, in same timezone as the U.S., and has a predominantly Black population.
  • Relationship-based recruitment: Visiting OMSAR during freshman orientation is a requirement for multicultural students receiving OMSAR scholarships. This “check out session” provided a natural platform to explain the goals of the Jamaica program to both prospective students and their families/support system. For hesitant families, ensuring students would be traveling among an inclusive community was essential. OMSAR scholars are supported continually by OMSAR staff throughout their college career, building a relationship of trust a reiterating an emphasis on service both at home and abroad. Families did not perceive they were sending students with strangers, but rather saw the OMSAR directors as an extension of an already established community.

Community beyond borders

An outcome of the program required students to reflect on their on-site experiences and conduct interviews with Jamaicans as part of cultural immersion. Upon returning, students continue to meet as a group, FaceTime with friends they made abroad, and most importantly, share with others how their experience abroad changed their perspective of self and the larger role they play as stewards in their communities.

“I went into it expecting to make an impact, but the greatest one ended up being the impact Jamaica’s people and culture had on me. I would go back in a heartbeat.” – Student Participant, Winter Break 2016

For more information on OMSAR, please visit https://www.ohio.edu/omsar/

IEP connects OHIO faculty, students, and staff to education abroad opportunities including those offered through CISabroad. For information on CISabroad faculty led programs, please visit https://www.cisabroad.com/custom-programs/faculty-led-programs/

*When applying to the program, “ethnicity” was an optional field students self-reported and was not used to judge eligibility for acceptance into the program.