Crowdfunding project aims to give underrepresented students a chance to study abroad
More students could incorporate international experiences into their college years if money were available to support their study abroad aspirations. To help students who might not otherwise be able to afford program costs, the Global Education Office is launching a crowdfunding effort with a $10,000 goal.
The campaign, to run through Oct. 30, is called Beyond Blacksburg: Removing Barriers to Study Abroad. The goal is to increase participation of underrepresented students, who traditionally view study abroad as out of reach, said Rommelyn Coffren of the Global Education Office, project leader for the initiative. Underrepresented groups in study abroad include students of color, low socioeconomic status, LGBTQ+, veterans, STEM majors, athletes, and students with disabilities.
At Virginia Tech’s Black Cultural Center, Coffren once heard a student remark that study abroad was seen as “not a possibility or not for us” among the student and her peers.
“That honest feedback struck a chord and was the inspiration for this crowdfunding project,” Coffren said. “Whether you’re a student of color, the first generation in your family to attend college – or whatever your story – study abroad shouldn’t seem impossible.”
Senior Caitlin Huynh of Tieu Can, Vietnam, set to graduate in May with bachelor’s degrees in international relations and French, has taken part in two study abroad programs. Huynh went on a faculty-led program to Paris, then returned to France for a semester at the University of Picardie Jules Verne in Amiens.
Huynh at first thought that studying abroad was an unlikely prospect. “As an immigrant and a first-generation college student from Vietnam, I never thought studying at university was something feasible, let alone participating in two study abroad programs and graduating on time,” Huynh said. “Thanks to funding from the Global Education Office Scholarship and the Presidential Scholarship Initiative, the financial strain was lifted off of my family."
The same doubts affected Katherine Louis of Norfolk, Virginia, a senior honors student majoring in Spanish. "I thought there was no way I would be able to buy plane tickets to another country, pay for housing over there, and pay for food. I just didn’t think it was going to be possible." Louis also studied abroad twice – a semester in Spain on an autonomous study program at the University of Oviedo and a Virginia Tech faculty-led program in Oman.
Louis received several scholarships to fund her experiences including ones from the Global Education Office, Kevin S. Weekley, and John and Gladys Lawrence. “I worked two jobs during my junior year to prepare for Oman, but a majority of the funding was from scholarships. I would not have been able to go without them,” Louis said.
The campaign comes at a time when the Global Education Office, part of Outreach and International Affairs, is exploring new funding sources for study abroad scholarships. Coffren said, “This is a great way to show support for Virginia Tech students and have a lasting impact on their lives. Your contribution may mean the difference in whether a student is able to study abroad.”
Supporters can contribute a gift of any amount and help promote the program on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram by visiting the project’s homepage. Coffren said that followers of the Global Education Office social media accounts will see more faces of students who’ve studied abroad while the campaign is underway.
Costs to study abroad vary depending on factors such as the type of program, location, airfare, and tuition. Information on program costs can be found at the Global Education Office website.
Rebecca Poutasse, a senior majoring in multimedia journalism, contributed to this report.