Travel Grants Send Students Around the Globe

Davidson's Dean Rusk International Studies Program travel grants make it possible for more than 150 students a year to have experiences such as analyzing healthcare systems in China or working as an art therapist at a women's shelter in Tanzania.

According to Director of International Studies Chris Alexander, the college strives to internationalize every student's education. "Our goal is to give all students international opportunities through co-curricular activities, and the grants are probably the single most powerful resource we have to accomplish that," he said.

Davidson provides students annually with $200,000 to design projects abroad based on research, service, internships, or personal exploration. The median grant ranges from $1,000 to $4,000. Alexander explained, "Because we have relatively few strings attached, the number of students affected by these grants and the range of experiences they have are much broader."

The first step for students seeking a grant is to submit a proposal explaining what and where they hope to explore, why it's important to their development, how they plan to conduct their project, and how much funding they need.

A committee of faculty members then evaluates applications. Alexander said, "Decisions are driven primarily by considerations based on merit, but at the same time, we strive to maximize the number of students who receive funds to travel abroad."

John de Saint Phalle '14 said, "Writing a proposal really pushes you to do things that you wouldn't normally think you could do, like planning to live by yourself in a foreign country, scheduling meetings, and creating your own project."

De Saint Phalle, a physics major, received a grant to study renewable energy in Iceland for six weeks last summer. "In my classes we talk about the physics of renewable energy, so I got a first-hand lesson in the role of renewables in that society, and insight into how we might transfer some of their ideas to the U.S.," he said.

Proposals can also include academic research for a thesis, which Alexander said are some of the strongest the program receives. Lyla Halsted '14 spent last summer researching gardens in Iran for her art history thesis on Islamic gardens. Although she entered the country with trepidation, she felt nothing but welcome and said, "I'm hoping that students realize that the Dean Rusk office and grants can help you study in places that might seem out of reach." Halsted added, "After visiting the gardens and speaking to experts at universities and museums in Iran, I returned with stacks of books and a specific idea for my thesis."

While some students plan their own itineraries, others join established programs, such as studying Arabic at the Qasid Institute in Jordan. Rebecca Joubin, professor and chair of Arab Studies, said that Dean Rusk Program grants have been fundamental to building the Arabic program, because students complete intermediate level Arabic language courses and gain cultural experience over the summer that allow them to take advanced content courses and tutor other students once they return.

"Whether they're working with refugees or for nonprofit organizations while in Jordan, it's clear that Davidson students want to volunteer along with their studies," Joubin added.

Josh Hengen '14, a Qasid student and environmental studies major, engaged with the culture and language by volunteering at the Center for the Study of the Built Environment (CSBE), which researches public spaces in Amman and rewards student architects throughout the Middle East. He said, "I primarily handled social media for the organization, but also created a bilingual website commemorating a Jordanian architect and artist, which was cool because it involved researching and writing for the web in Arabic.".

On the other side of the globe, Annalee Kwochka '15 worked through Experiential Learning Abroad Programs (ELAP), which places students at nonprofit organizations, to volunteer at an orphanage in Costa Rica. As a disabilities studies major who plans to attend graduate school for clinical psychology, Kwochka found teaching and playing games with the children to give her invaluable experience working with people.

"I think going abroad and immersing yourself in another culture is an essential part of college, but I wasn't able go during an entire semester. Fortunately, Dean Rusk grants provide students with abroad opportunities throughout the year, allowing me to go for the summer," she said.

Alexander views travel abroad as crucial for students who have grown up with buzzwords like "globalization." He explained, "International education is critical to cultivating humane instincts in our students. Exposure abroad helps them appreciate the distinctive values of individual cultures and the common threads that stitch us all together, and they learn about themselves through learning about others."


  • October 8, 2013