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Kent State Enables More Diverse Students to Study Abroad

Posted Aug. 25, 2014
enter photo description
The Seminal Six --Jalessa Caples, Tajee Anderson,
Dennis Meacham
,
Iniah Dunbar, Isaac Talley and Rachel
Brown
-- stand in front of the Fontana Gaia (Fountain of Joy)
located in Piazza del Campo in Siena during their education-
abroad trip to Florence, Italy.

(Photo credit: Stephon Brown)

Six recent high school graduates who will be starting classes at Kent State University this fall got a head start on their college education by studying abroad at Kent State’s Florence Summer Institute in Florence, Italy. 

Tajee Anderson, Rachel Brown, Jalessa Caples, Iniah Dunbar, Dennis Meacham and Isaac Talley were part of the Seminal Six – the first group of students in a pilot program that seeks to offer underserved students the opportunity to experience global education beyond their local communities. The program was created by Kent State’s Office of Global Education and the Division of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.

The students, who had chosen to attend Kent State for college, were part of the university’s Upward Bound program that helps to increase educational opportunities for first-generation, low-income students. The Seminal Six had rarely traveled outside their neighborhoods and some had never been on a plane prior to their education-abroad experience in Florence this summer.

“I think Tennessee is the farthest I’ve ever gone,” says Dunbar, from Akron, Ohio. “I’ve done five or six small trips with Upward Bound to see colleges and one family trip to see my grandma.”

Diversity and Global Education Initiative

Marcello Fantoni, Ph.D., Kent State’s associate provost for global education, says Kent State’s program is a huge step in the right direction in leveling the playing field for underserved students and offering them a worldly perspective.

 “Global education gives students opportunities for cultural enrichment, academic development and career enhancement,” Fantoni says. “Unfortunately, the most underserved students — minorities, disabled, economically challenged, socially challenged — are virtually shut out of the international education experience.”

“The Office of Global Education and the Division of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion are in partnership to support the academic growth and development of diverse students from many cultures,” says Alfreda Brown, Ed.D., vice president for Kent State’s Division of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. “We believe embracing multicultural competencies encourages a more dynamic understanding of diversity and inclusion. Together we hope to create a more welcoming and affirming university across a variety of cultures, using the term multiculturalism in its truest understanding, for both domestic and international diversity.”

Experiencing a New Culture

In addition to attending classes, studying and doing homework, the students got to explore Italian culture and cities on weekends.

“We went rafting, we had a cooking class where we made pasta from scratch and tiramisu. We went to Rome and Pisa, which was pretty cool,” Dunbar says.

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In this photo, the students prepare to begin their Elementary
Italian class following a break.

(Photo credit: Stephon Brown)

The language barrier did not hinder these students from fully immersing themselves in the Italian culture, with some of them taking advantage of their Italian language classes to learn how to make conversations with locals.

“Prior to departure, I did not speak any Italian, but I took an introductory course while I was there,” says Anderson, from Lorain, Ohio. “Initially it was a challenge. The language barrier was hard to get used to but the class made it easier for me to pick up on the language.”

For Meacham, who wants to become a music educator, studying in Florence not only gave him the opportunity to experience music from a different culture, but also helped him achieve his desire to gain a more structured view of the world.

“I saw a few music venues in Italian opera, and we went through a piazza where there was a band playing,” he says. “I would like to continue learning about music from different cultures. I would really like to go to Asia or Africa and see their styles of music.”

Meacham, who is from Barberton, Ohio, says he fell in love with a lot of things in Italy.

“I really don’t like being in cars — everyone walks there,” Meacham says. “I was able to cook, and a lot of the foods there are fresher, which is really nice. I learned some of the language as much as I could even though I did not take a language class while I was there.”

Impact of Studying Abroad

Dunbar, who will major in athletic training and has a goal to be the first in her family with a college degree, always knew she would want to study abroad someday.

enter photo description
The students pose for a photo in front of the Leaning
Tower of Pisa on their first weekend in Italy.

(Photo credit: Stephon Brown)

“I just knew I needed to study abroad,” Dunbar says. “Being in America, you only get to see American things. They say it’s a melting pot, but the other cultures are watered down, and you don't get to see it in full effect. So when you get to go to another country and see it at its peak and at its best, it’s completely different. You have to be thankful for that experience. You can’t appreciate something until you know what it’s about.”

“This was my first time being away from my family, which I think was very important for me because through this program, I’ve gained a lot of independence,” Anderson says.  “I couldn’t just call my mother and ask her how to do something; I had to learn on my own.”

Anderson believes that studying abroad is something that all students should try to do at some point in the course of their education.

“There are things that textbooks can’t teach students, which you can only experience through living other cultures,” says Anderson, who will major in psychology at Kent State. “Before I left, I wasn’t really globalized and I didn’t really know about things outside my hometown. I’ve learned there’s more to life than what I’ve always known.”

Read more about the benefits of global education and these Kent State students’ education-abroad experience featured in U.S. News & World Report.

For more information about Kent State’s Office of Global Education, visit www.kent.edu/globaleducation.

For more information about Kent State’s Division of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, visit www.kent.edu/diversity.