OSWEGO — SUNY Oswego earning an Excellence in Diversity and Inclusion in International Education award from Diversity Abroad reflects a campus-wide culture and efforts to support student opportunity, said Joshua McKeown, the college’s associate provost for international education and programs.
The Organizational Excellence award recognizes the increasing diversity of campus and ways the college made sure opportunities like studying abroad were accessible to all who were interested in it, McKeown said.
“People really believe in this,” McKeown said. “From the administration to the faculty to the students, everybody has been a part of it, and they can be proud of this award and the culture that it reflects.”
Between 2010 and 2017, SUNY Oswego’s enrollment of underrepresented students more than doubled — from 12.8 percent to 27.7 percent.
The percentage of Oswego’s study abroad population who are students of color went from 13.3 to 27.7 percent, mirroring the institution’s student population overall.
“Diversity and inclusion in all aspects of education, including education abroad, are something that all of us at SUNY Oswego believe in and have put the time and effort into achieving,” the college’s provost and vice president for academic affairs, Scott Furlong, wrote in a support letter.
A selection committee of five recognized experts “reviewed many deserving nominations and determined that your work exemplifies the practices that increase access, foster diversity and promote inclusion in international education and exchange,” Joelle Tolifero, associate director of student services for Diversity Abroad, wrote in notifying McKeown of the award.
McKeown credited the efforts and leadership of Lizette Alvarado, associate director of the college’s Office of Internal Education and Programs, for a range of initiatives, including a Diversity Abroad Mentoring Program and “I, Too, Am Study Abroad” panels addressing such topics as identity overseas, financing student experiences, what women can expect while traveling and finding opportunities off the beaten path.
Alvarado noted that outreach and partnerships with the likes of the Educational Opportunity Program, the annual ALANA (African, Latino, Asian and Native American) Student Leadership Conference, the Hart Hall Global Awareness Conference and the research celebration Quest are key opportunities to reach students, particularly students of color.
“Visibility, students and cross-campus engagement are the most fundamental characteristics of this initiative,” Alvarado said.
Affordability is key
The data also show that making studying abroad not only attractive but affordable covers concerns from those who do not think they can afford it, Furlong noted, as economically disadvantaged students — 29 percent of the college’s population — went abroad at a similar 28.4 percent rate.
Increasing financial support for students looking to travel, with scholarships more than doubling to the current 10 scholarship programs awarding more than $100,000 to deserving students, has made these opportunities available to a wider range of students.
Naomi Rodriguez Jose, a 2018 graduate who served as the college’s first participant in the Diversity Abroad Annual Global Leadership Summit, praised the availability of financial and other support from the international education office and EOP whenever she wanted to study abroad.
“All of my student abroad trips would not have been possible if it wasn’t for the supporting SUNY Oswego staff,” the dual major in global and international studies and in communication and social interaction wrote in her letter accompanying the college’s application. “Financial support was my No. 1 concern before applying, but when I saw the opportunities that were available to me, it was no longer something to question.”
McKeown also said his office has worked with newer faculty, especially faculty from diverse backgrounds, to help develop courses with study-abroad components of interest to students.
“Students might want to go abroad because of that faculty member,” he explained. “Those faculty leaders are crucial, as program leaders, mentors and role models.”
The Diversity Abroad recognition joins other honors the college’s efforts have earned in recent years. SUNY Oswego won the 2017 Excellence and Innovation in International Education Award for “Embedding Global Engagement and Action into the Curriculum” from the American Association of State Colleges and Universities.
The previous year, the “I, Too, Am Study Abroad” campaign earned an Andrew Heiskell Award for Innovation in International Education honorable mention from the Institute for International Education.
Christopher Collins McNeil, a 2016 political science graduate and former Student Association president, said his six-month study in Madrid, Spain, “did nothing short of change my entire life,” while he also learned a lot about culture and self-identity during a subsequent research-based opportunity in Cuba. “SUNY Oswego has undoubtedly set the standard of excellence in diversity and inclusion — a standard that should be both followed and acknowledged,” he wrote in a letter supporting the college’s application.
“My eight months studying abroad allowed me the opportunity to return to SUNY Oswego and share my experiences through the #ITooAmStudyAbroad digital marketing platform,” said Collins McNeil, now an associate at Mercury Public Affairs. “This platform allowed me the opportunity to share with other students and prospective students, faculty and staff about the accessibility to study-abroad, the life-changing experiences one will experience abroad, and to share with students of color, LGBT students and others of what I will always refer to as the journey of a lifetime.”
Rodriguez Jose, who served as a diversity abroad mentor and undertook global service projects, agreed on the large impact international experiences had on her.
“From spending a week in Argentina to 16 days in Benin to a month in Italy and five months in Brazil, my time at Oswego was an absolute dream,” Rodriguez Jose said. “Each of these experiences has been life changing in unique ways. I was challenged personally and educationally, allowing me to understand myself better and gain clarity on the professional career I want to pursue. Today, I view the world with diverse perspectives that help me better understand the decisions people make as well as respect them.”
Senior technology management major Nyezee Goe, who came to the United States from Liberia when he was young, enjoyed the opportunity to study in Barcelona and travel around Europe last fall.
He credits his mentor, Sandra Bargainnier (chair of the college’s health promotion and wellness department), and Alvarado for the support and encouragement to make it happen.
“The experience is what you decide to take from it, as for me I was interested in people, culture, and architecture,” Goe said. “And that’s what I focused on learning about when traveling to cities I went to, apart from my lessons at the university.”
Diversity Abroad’s mission is to create equitable access to the benefits of global education by empowering educators, engaging stakeholders and connecting diverse students to resources and opportunity.
For more information on Oswego’s study abroad programs, visit oswego.edu/international.