Summer study-abroad programs open doors to global experiences

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Wilma Wierenga, second from right, an associate professor of foreign languages and director of RIT’s German study abroad program, poses with 2009 program participants during a field trip to Berlin.

Joe Featherall, a fifth-year mechanical engineering student, has always loved travel and automobiles. At RIT, he combined both of his loves through a series of co-op assignments in automotive engineering and participation in the College of Liberal Arts’ study-abroad program at the Speak and Write Institute in Marburg, Germany. He loved the region so much that he has accepted a position as an engineer with BMW’s facility in Munich following graduation this May.

“I was able to immerse myself in German culture and language and really experience the country as a resident instead of a tourist,” Featherall notes. “I also interacted with people from many nations and all walks of life and enjoyed hearing different views on politics, religion and the ways in which science and education are carried out in other countries.”

Featherall is just one of several hundred students who have participated in the study-abroad initiatives in Germany, Italy, Croatia and Japan over the last two decades. These efforts augment numerous additional study-abroad programs offered throughout the university as part of RIT’s growing initiatives in international education. Research shows that these experiences improve student retention and overall satisfaction with the university experience. Participants in the liberal arts program receive college credit, take courses at partner institutions and work with RIT faculty who spend the summer with their students. 

“The overall immersion and interaction they receive would not be possible if we were teaching the courses at RIT,” says Vincent Serravallo, associate professor of sociology, who directs the summer program at RIT’s affiliate institution, the American College of Management and Technology in Dubrovnik. 

The unique educational and research opportunities provided for both students and professors greatly enhance RIT’s efforts to increase real-world experience in all areas of curriculum.

“Students gain a greater understanding of numerous fields through observing how businesses operate in other nations, while professors can interact with foreign researchers to expand their own professional development,” adds Elisabetta D’Amanda, director of the RIT Italian program at the A Door to Italy Institute in Genoa. 

D’Amanda is working with Malcolm Spaull, chair of RIT’s School of Film and Animation, to develop a course in film and photography which will run this summer. In addition, RIT students and faculty in the Japanese program participate in the Intensive Program in Japanese for Science and Technology at the Kanazawa Institute of Technology, which promotes international science education and research between foreign and Japanese students and faculty.

The college hopes to expand programs in participating countries and ultimately create initiatives in additional nations and regions of the world.