Global Engagement Pivots as the World Changes

The Office of International Education has adjusted to the new normal by finding ways to meet student demand for global engagement.
Students and staff with OMED’s Study Abroad and Global Innovation Project after going to the top of Table Mountain, overlooking the city of Cape Town in South Africa.

Students and staff with OMED’s Study Abroad and Global Innovation Project after going to the top of Table Mountain, overlooking the city of Cape Town in South Africa.

The last two years have been filled with international travel restrictions affecting where and how students could access international study opportunities. The Office of International Education (OIE) has adjusted to the new normal by finding ways to meet student demand for global engagement.

“Global learning at Georgia Tech never stopped,” said Lorie Johns Páulez, director of Education Abroad in OIE. “During the pandemic we pivoted to some remote learning options so that we could continue to offer international opportunities to students, even though we could not physically go places.”

As travel restrictions evolved, OIE collaborated with dedicated faculty leaders to make plans and several backups for study abroad in case of last-minute changes to international travel guidelines.

“We had to find ways to offer programs and also have a way to cancel them with minimal impact,” said Johns Páulez. “We’re basically trying to predict the unpredictable by installing systems of go and no-go dates where students would not lose any money if we had to cancel a program.”

Each summer Tech normally has about 55 faculty-led study abroad programs. This summer the number is down to 26, but more are expected to return for 2023.

“We have more than 1,000 students in those 26 programs, so things are coming back and we’re on our way back to high levels of participation because students want to go and our faculty are dedicated to global education,” said Johns Páulez. “I attended a couple of the FASET orientation sessions to talk with students and their parents. They all were very eager and excited about international opportunities, whether it be the living learning communities on campus or study abroad.”

Participation in Tech’s living learning communities is also rebounding.

“We’re basically back to normal in terms of on-campus engagement,” said Allison Noffsinger, director of On-Campus Internationalization in OIE. “Despite initially having low applications, the I-house Living Learning Community is now full. So, we have lots of exchange students from all over the world who will be living with our degree seeking students. We also returned to pre-pandemic levels in the Global Leadership Living Learning Community, with 122 students for next year and another 20 students on the waitlist.”

Johns Paulez and Noffsinger said that working on international programs during the pandemic has been challenging, but it left them with some big takeaways.

"The biggest lesson I've learned is that we are more resilient than we think," said Noffsinger. "In general, humans are more resilient than they give themselves credit for. No matter what is put in front of us, we will find a way over it, under it, around it, or through it. And, we'll come out thriving in the end."

Commitment to Global Engagement Strengthens Its Return

Although the pandemic caused international travel restrictions to change frequently, student interest in study abroad never waned. Neither did the commitment of faculty and staff who wanted to ensure that students have a global experience. Among the study abroad programs this summer are the Scheller College of Business Leadership for Social Good program in Eastern and Central Europe, the AE Limerick Summer Program, and the inaugural Study Abroad and Global Innovation Project in South Africa and Namibia.

The Leadership for Social Good program is a 10-week program that takes students to Czech Republic, Slovakia, Austria, and Hungary. The program introduces students to global civil society and the challenges of creating and leading effective and sustainable social enterprises. Students work with and learn from social innovators in Hungary and track their impact on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

“We were canceled for the last two years, so it’s amazing to be back and able to continue these collaborations with social sector organizations who do inspiring work in Central and Eastern Europe,” said Dori Pap, managing director of Scheller College’s Institute for Leadership and Social Impact and program director for the study abroad program. “Our students are learning what improving the human condition looks like on a global scale by working closely with community partners at the front lines of societal impact. From responding to the needs of Ukranian refugees in Hungary, to promoting the well-being of Roma children, to employing people with disabilities, these organizations provide our students a unique opportunity to practice their leadership skills through various projects."

Several of the students, including business administration major Gehrig Harris, wrote blogposts on LinkedIn about their experiences and the challenges that helped them grow. After hitting a wall with his study abroad experience, Harris realized, “I have the power to not just finish my assignments but make them great. And, I can make my own fun on my own time. I realized that my time and company are valuable.”

The AE Limerick Summer Program is a faculty-led collaborative effort of Tech’s Daniel Guggenheim School of Aerospace Engineering and the H. Milton Stewart School of Industrial and Systems Engineering with the Department of Mechanical, Aeronautical, and Biomedical Engineering at the University of Limerick. Students take 12 hours of major courses at the junior or senior level, effectively saving one semester of classes on campus or allowing for an internship. 

Lakshmi Sankar, Regents Professor and Sikorsky Professor in aerospace engineering, has been the faculty program director since its inception in 2013. He is one of four faculty members who travel to Limerick every summer.

“The first year saw only six students enrolled, and we could only take two professors to teach 12 credit hours,” said Sankar. “The number of students has steadily grown and has averaged over 45 students each year (except the pandemic years of 2020 and 2021). We now offer eight or nine courses, and students may choose four or five.”

This summer the Office of Minority Educational Development (OMED) launched its Study Abroad and Global Innovation Project to enhance equity among student experiences by expanding access to global experiences and increasing pathways for underrepresented students to connect globally in their STEM and post-graduation pursuits. The program is part of a $250,000 Strada Grant awarded to Georgia Tech via OMED. Students are engaged in Global Research and Internship Programs or International Academic Programs in Africa.

The inaugural cohort of seven students spent three weeks traveling and learning in South Africa, exploring Johannesburg (Soweto) and Cape Town (District 6, beaches, gardens, and townships). The students then flew to Namibia where they explored the culture, land, and history of Windhoek, Swakopmund, and Mount Etjo, hearing from leaders, activists, and faculty. Topics included apartheid, genocide, the political economy of South Africa, the politics of land and displacement, human rights violations and a case study of the LGBTQIA community, race and education, infrastructure (education, transportation, communication, and housing), and climate change.

“This experience exceeded expectations in every way,” said Sybrina Atwaters, director of OMED. “The broadening of knowledge through this experiential learning opportunity was transformative for all stakeholders — students, staff, faculty, hosts, institutional leaders, and funding entities.”

According to students, this was one of their most important experiences at Georgia Tech.

“Without it, I would have never experienced studying abroad in my undergraduate career,” said Jada Crockett, a civil engineering major. “With the coronavirus cutting into my first year and extending until now, I had pretty much given up, telling myself that I could travel abroad post-graduation if I could find funding. I am so glad this was not the case because I learned much about myself through this entire process. My outlook on life, goals, and interpersonal skills all changed for the better, and I will forever be grateful.”

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