Winter 2011 Study Abroad Programs Cancelled

After months of preparation, SMC students planning to study abroad for Winter 2011 received an email in late November notifying them of the cancellation of their January trips. All three programs to Mexico, South Africa and Egypt were cancelled due to low enrollment. Whereas faculty was in charge of the trips as recently as this past summer, the programs are now standardized by the SMC Department of International Education.

Communications Professor and head of the South Africa study abroad program Frank Dawson expressed frustration with the way the standardization has complicated the programs and has halted them from moving forward.

Dawson believes this process has removed much of the authority once held by faculty and has placed the power and judgment into a sole department. "It is difficult to establish something when you have a lot of responsibility and not so much authority," he said.

Dawson has been a part of five previous SMC study abroad programs to Norway and South Africa, but found he was drawn to this South Africa trip due to the numerous community service projects available and the opportunity to explore the growing media in their country.

SMC prides itself in its efforts to maximize global citizenship and promotes the importance of students studying abroad. SMC's 2010 Institutional Effectiveness Report, released last month, found that students' involvement has steadily increased each semester over the past five years – this upcoming semester now an exception.

Of the 25 students required for the program to move forward, 16 students filled out the original paperwork and 12 of those 16 made their deposit payments. Due to the department's strict deadlines, when responses did not come from 25 interested students, the program was immediately cut within a matter of hours – leaving little room for latecomers.

After the 12:30 p.m. registration deadline on November 19, the email went out barely three hours later notifying students the trip was in fact cancelled.

Alexis Campbell, a second year SMC student, in anticipation of her January departure to South Africa said, "I felt like [the Department] was trying to make it not happen. They were so strict on their deadlines; I think it turned people away."

All students and faculty members alike seem to be singing the same tune. Many blame miscommunication and confusion among policies, deadlines and regulations for shutting down the progression of the program.

Psychology Professor and faculty staff for the South Africa trip Dr. Karen Gunn said, "Students are last minute people. I certainly think this could have been avoided by better collaboration between faculty and the International Education Center."

After spending countless hours applying for scholarships, writing essays and requesting letters of recommendation, Stephen Olsen was awarded $1,500 by the AS and $3,500 from the Gilman International Scholarship, leaving his entire trip cost covered.

"I am sure with a little outreach we could have made this trip happen. South Africa will always be that place I almost went, but will never go," said Olsen.

Kirsten Heckes was brought to tears with the news. Heckes completed her scholarship applications, got her shots and even ordered her malaria medication. "I was shocked because I never expected that."

Heckes said, "We want to be looked at as a global school and be able to talk about the importance of bringing all these elements together. And then they cancel the study abroad programs, how does that make sense?"

Dr. Gunn said, "I'm sure [International Education] thought it was justifiable. I think there might have been more room for flexibility as for the arbitrariness of the deadlines and expectations of the deposits."

"Some call it progress with standardization, but if you look at the end result, the programs didn't happen," said Dawson.