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Volume 48 Number 3
Edited by Kahaema Byer
The International Section for this Summer 2015 issue of TCP includes a brief spotlight on one of our members (and former chair of the committee), Toshi Sasao. For our major article, Back, Williams, and Berardi advocate for the importance of providing access to study abroad programs for underrepresented students, and outline one such program hosted by the authors’ university. Please send submissions to the International Section to Kahaema Byer at email@example.com
Name: Toshi Sasao, Ph.D.
Region/Country: Tokyo, Japan/Opole, Poland
University Names: International Christian University (Japan); University of Opole (Poland)
Dept.: Education (Psychology) & Peace Studies
Type of Work: University Professor and Community-based Researcher/Evaluator
Research Interest: Social capital, well-being, and life resources for disenfranchised and immigrant/migrant communities in multicultural and cross-cultural contexts
Current Issues (Japan): Many social and community problems and issues have become more salient in Japan, calling for alternative approaches (e.g. community and ecological psychology) for adolescents, young adults, and the elderly, perhaps given political and economic instability, social and educational disparities, social injustice, changes with the family relations, work-life imbalance, etc.
Although studying abroad has always been valuable, in recent years it has become an almost essential component of a 21st century college experience. Study abroad programs teach college students cognitive complexity and international engagement (National Survey of Student Engagement, 2007), and also facilitate academic growth (Dwyer & Peters; Hadis, 2005). These experiences act as sociopolitical development for students, allowing them the analytical skills and social awareness to engage thoughtfully and critically with the world, particularly with regard to understanding and resisting extant systems of oppression (Watts, Williams, & Jagers, 2003). These skills are relevant for all college students, and perhaps particularly valuable for those students interested in pursuing graduate education. Despite the widely known benefits of study abroad, participants have remained disproportionately White in comparison to overall demographics of college students. This disparity likely stems from the fact that students from underrepresented groups differ from white students in their social/cultural and financial capital (Salisbury, Paulsen, & Pascarella, 2011). Therefore students from underrepresented groups experience aspects of college differently from the majority group, including the decision to study abroad. These factors must be taken into account in order to effectively address disparities in study abroad participation, particularly for those considering graduate education.
The Center for Access and Attainment at DePaul University, Chicago, Illinois, saw an opportunity to improve this educational disparity by providing fully funded short-term study and research abroad experiences for undergraduate students participating in the Arnold Mitchem Fellowship (sophomore students) and the McNair Scholars Program (junior and senior students). Program students are members of an underrepresented racial/ethnic group, and/or first-generation and low-income students, and plan to pursue doctoral education. While in the Mitchem and McNair programs, students can participate in Summer Research and Service Experiences (SRSE), extracurricular programs designed to meet research and academic goals, including preparation for graduate study. Specifically, this paper will describe the SRSE program as an approach to addressing access to study abroad experiences for underrepresented groups, as well as the ways in which the program facilitates students’ sociopolitical development, a crucial skill for underrepresented students preparing for graduate school.
Since 2010, 43 students have studied abroad and conducted research through SRSE programs in Argentina, Croatia, Jamaica, and England. Of these students, 28% were male and 72% were female; 93% identified as racial/ethnic minorities or underrepresented groups; and 67% were first-generation, low-income students. The England SRSE was developed with an overarching theme of exploring access to graduate education for underrepresented students in the United Kingdom. This project grew out of a partnership with the University of East London, an institution committed to supporting marginalized groups in their pursuit of higher education degrees, specifically those from low-income backgrounds. Students are trained to conduct a research project on barriers to doctoral education for underrepresented students as part of a short-term study abroad experience designed to expose U.S. college students to the British education system.
Before, during and after the trip, students received research training. DePaul University Center for Access and Attainment and University of East London faculty and staff worked together to develop a mixed methods project to explore experiences of higher education for underrepresented U.K. students, including discrimination, privilege, empowerment, and access to support services, that may have influenced the pursuit or attainment of a graduate degree for low-income students. DePaul students acted as research assistants in the study; they were provided with an opportunity to gain a variety of research skills and interact with students in UK universities. Research methods workshops, data collection and analysis were incorporated into the 2-week experience in the UK.
A primary strength of this educational model is that is collaborative: students were involved in the research process from a very early stage, facilitating their investment in and ownership over the project. Although the project topic was developed prior to students’ application to the program, students were encouraged to contribute their ideas and experiences in order to make the study relevant to their interests and goals. For three months prior to the trip, students participated in weekly introductory seminars on the research process, including conducting a literature review, identifying a gap in the current research, creating an individual research question, and collecting relevant data. Study protocol was adapted based on students’ input. In addition, students reviewed reports on issues of social class in the British higher education context.
At the end of the academic year, students embarked on their journey to England. They participated in sessions introducing them to the English education system, and enjoyed sightseeing. They also received training on research ethics and qualitative data collection. Students from the University of East London and Kingston University completed surveys and participated in 3 focus groups conducted by DePaul students, providing descriptions of the barriers and facilitators to pursuing a graduate degree that they have encountered in higher education. Workshops the following day emphasized using qualitative and quantitative software to analyze data. The program concluded with a ceremony for students and staff. Upon returning to DePaul, students delved into data analysis to answer their individual research questions, guided by weekly workshops. At the conclusion of the summer, students submitted research papers and posters on their topics, and many continue to work on their respective projects.
In 2014, four sophomore students and two junior students participated in the program. Of these students, one was male and five were female; 83% were minority (four Latina, one Black); and 50% were first-generation and low-income. During and following the experience, students completed reflective essays to allow program staff to evaluate the project. Staff and research assistants coded these reflection papers using thematic analysis.
We found students’ experiences important for their sociopolitical development. Following the program, students reported that academic activities and cultural events were complementary, and indicated that they had gained academic and social skills. They thrived in the study abroad research environment. One student reported, “As a scholar my research experience and knowledge have grown and I feel more comfortable with the process as a whole.” Students’ perceived sense of possibility also evolved following the program. One student wrote, “I believe that this program is a gateway to accomplish goals that some may think are impossible.” Another student expressed that the program impacted her understanding of her career: “I am still fascinated by the idea of being able to help people and make a difference through both practice and research, which can help to develop and improve medical practice and medicine." Another student reported on the knowledge she gained about the education system, “The SRSE England program has helped me understand the similarities in educational progress and where there are challenges. It has helped me understand that education and academia are basically the same in both countries.” One student summed up the overall SRSE program’s impact on her: “[With] an emphasis on professional, social, and academic development, an SRSE program is a wonderful opportunity to dabble into the world of academics, gain appreciation, and most importantly become impassioned with the possibilities of higher education.” Students were able to experience a new culture in the context of a familiar topic—access to education. We argue that the SRSE program both addresses issues of access to study abroad for students from underrepresented groups, and facilitates their sociopolitical development in preparation for graduate school.
Dwyer, M. M., & Peters, C. K. (2004). The benefits of study abroad. Transitions abroad, 37(5), 56-58.
National Survey of Student Engagement. (2007). Experiences that matter: Enhancing student learning and
success. Center for Post-Secondary Research: Indiana University.
Hadis, B. F. (2005). Why are they better students when they come back? Determinants of academic focusing gains in the study abroad experience. Frontiers: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Study Abroad, 11, 57-70.
Salisbury, M. H., Paulsen, M. B., & Pascarella, E. T. (2011). Why do all the study abroad students look alike? Applying an integrated student choice model to explore differences in the factors that influence white and minority students’ intent to study abroad. Research in Higher Education, 52(2), 123-150.
Watts, R. J., Williams, N. C., & Jagers, R. J. (2003). Sociopolitical development. American Journal of Community Psychology, 31(1-2), 185-194.
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