By Christine Gronberg
Three years from now, 300 Simmons students will be traversing Australia, South Africa, and Austria studying nursing, human rights, and music.
At least, that is the hope of the new director of the study abroad office, Joseph Stanley.
According to Stanley, a successful study abroad program at a school the size of Simmons, which enrolls 1,800 students, should have between 280 and 300 students participating in programs around the world as opposed to the 120 Simmons has currently.
To encourage more students to take advantage of education abroad, Stanley wants the study abroad office to do the following:
1) Establish a stronger presence on campus so students are aware of the option to study abroad.
2) Decrease the obscene cost of studying abroad, which can be up to $30,000.
3) Increase the variety of providers with which Simmons partners.
As Stanley has found out, however, setting goals is easier said than done, especially when working with a program with a rocky past.
Laura Bey left in the spring and the office was left in a lurch. Administrators and three or four Global Ambassadors, former study abroad students, were called upon to keep the office afloat. With such a load placed on students and over worked staff members tabling events and info sessions were neglected and deadlines came and went unannounced.
Communications between the study abroad office and Residence Life were lost, which resulted in a group of students returning from studying human rights in South Africa being forced to spend their first night back in the U.S. in a hall with no bedding, towels, or lights.
When Stanley arrived, he was greeted by Simmons students petitioning against the required study abroad office fee of $400. According to the website, “This fee covers the myriad services provided to students from multiple offices on campus,” but the students felt those services were not being provided.
The fee was not waived, but the need for a stronger, more efficient, and more involved study abroad office was plain to see. Stanley feels he is up to the challenge, starting with smoothing things over with the students.
Undoing this negative perception of study abroad starts with reaching out to the Simmons community. To this end, Stanley spoke to a pharmacology class of more than 140 sophomores and has plans to continue making classroom appearances.
Senior Carrie Zuk, head of the Global Ambassadors, says Stanley also stopped by the study abroad tabling event outside the Fens and actively engaged anyone who walked by.
Information sessions are held every week at varying times so as to add options for busy students and Stanley holds office hours, available for anyone during any stage of the study abroad process to come in for an advising session.
Stanley is working on PR with the professors as well by attending department meetings to promote the study abroad office. Currently, he is speaking with professors in the Education, Political Science and Music departments about planning shorter travel courses to South Africa, Washington D.C., and Austria respectively.
These shorter courses tend to fit into students’ schedules more easily than a full semester. They are also roughly $5,000 instead of a full summer or semester program which can range anywhere from $12,000 to $30,000. These programs will hopefully be available by 2017.
Reaching out to various departments is imperative if Stanley is going to meet his goal of 300 students studying abroad in three years. His focus at the moment is on Simmons STEM and nursing programs. They are a priority because there are so few providers in the Simmons repertoire that fulfill the practical element required for the intensive nursing program, yet they make up the majority of Simmons students.
The current partnership is with the University of Granada, but this requires a fluency in Spanish which many do not possess. This language barrier is something Stanley would like to dissolve, so he has been looking at English-taught nursing programs, specifically with the Australian Catholic University.
It looks like some of his hard work is beginning to show. Junior international relations major Fernanda Tapia said, “I always heard bad things about the study abroad office, but he was super helpful. He went out of his way to find things and do the research for me […] He seems like he really wants to turn it around.”
It does seem like Stanley is putting in quite a bit of effort. He and his wife were seen in the audience of the School of Management (SOM) students’ presentation on their spring break trip to Denmark and Sweden.
In the end, Stanley received a gratitude-filled “thank you” from SOM professor Cynthia Ingols for helping to facilitate the program and to his wife for baking pastries for the event.
The study abroad office workers have a lot of work ahead of them, but hopefully, progress, though slow, will be continue to be steady. An unofficial student survey taken a few weeks ago reported almost 70 percent of responders still agree that the study abroad office needs to be much more active and easy to maneuver.
Despite the chaos that preceded him, Stanley came into the position confident, though he is stressing “baby steps” in his plan for the future.