Study abroad program aims to enhance student development


Terry Jackson, PhD, Staff Writer

Blaise Davenport, a senior VSU Honors student, has spent most of the Fall 2022 semester studying at “arguably the best university in the world,” Oxford University in England.

Davenport is an academic superstar who majors in computer information systems and minors in cyber security and forensics.

“It was just about the learning, the exposure, and honestly, taking advantage of the opportunity to travel the world, and getting a different frame of mind at, either, a fraction of the cost, or somebody else’s dime,” Davenport said.

Every Trojan’s academic focus may not include having tea and crumpets at Oxford – exhilarated by code and detective work. Fortunately, every student is able to add studying abroad during their enrollment at VSU to their bucket list.

All students are eligible to study abroad after their freshman year and must have at least a 2.5 GPA. There are also opportunities for graduate students as well who have a minimum 3.0 GPA.

It should be a no-brainer. Students can travel to fantastic destinations, with a huge discount. Nevertheless, the study abroad office on the second floor, north wing of Foster Hall, is underutilized despite the advantages. 

Currently, VSU only sees three percent of its graduating students studying abroad. Dr. Daniel Roberts, Executive Director of the Division of Global Leadership, Academic & Talent Development, wants to increase student enrichment through international education to 20-25 percent.

Davenport credits Dr. Roberts with piquing her interest in studying abroad when he spoke during an orientation event for honors students when she was an incoming freshman. That was the fall of 2019, and then COVID-19 severely limited international travel for the next two years.

Despite missing four of her eight semesters of student life at VSU, Davenport refused to let the opportunity escape her completion.

“It seemed like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and I’d be a fool not to take it. When it presented itself, I [knew] it was made just for me,” Davenport said. “I’m an academic, a highly performing student. Not only will I be able to study abroad, but I can study at a place where I’m being challenged. I can walk away with the experience of learning a different culture and enhancing my academic abilities.”

The Dr. George H. Bennett Office for International Education offers students opportunities to study in any region of the world. The programs come in multiple forms. There are options for short-term experiences, usually led by faculty, and more extended stays that can cover an entire semester.

For instance, Davenport selected a program where she is abroad for a few months (12 weeks) during the Fall 2022 semester. Dr. Roberts pointed out that Mr. 1882 Jordan Daniels went to Barcelona, Spain, during Summer 2022. In his program, Daniels was the only VSU student in the group. Daniels’s experience also included a faculty advisor from a different university.

VSU does have study abroad opportunities where a VSU faculty advisor leads a group of VSU students on international educational undertakings. The University began a new Freshman Studies course this year. International Education is a module covered during a week of the Freshman Studies class.

Next summer, faculty members teaching the course will go to Morocco. The purpose is for all of the professors teaching the course to have a firsthand understanding of traveling to another country for education. The faculty experience will translate in the classroom to inspire students to seek international education opportunities. 

“Faculty are incredibly important drivers of student behavior,” Dr. Roberts said. “We’ve [advised] students to take a minor, take a second major, or do an internship. I’d like our faculty to see studying abroad as an important part of the education issue.”

Many undergraduate students are reluctant to study abroad. Academic issues such as a limited GPA or failure to map out eight semesters of courses, activities, and goals make studying abroad inapplicable to some students. Another major hindrance is the financial obligations despite the reduced out-of-pocket burden.

Fear of safety discourages many students from traveling internationally. Racism and crime are not exclusive to the U.S. Students are also dissuaded because they may miss something, like friends and family, while they are gone. Others came to an HBCU for an immersive, exclusive HBCU experience. So why leave?

“I feel like some students are scared about going abroad,” Davenport said. After a moment of reflection on her presence in the moment of living the study abroad experience, she said, “But I still feel like the longer [you are away], the better!”