Unique study abroad program receives national recognition


By Steve Nakata, Administrative Services

Eva-NavarijoPULLMAN, Wash. – As far as Eva Navarijo knows, Washington State University’s First Generation Abroad Program is the only one like it in the nation.

After recently learning the program is a finalist for the Innovative New Program Award from GoAbroad.com, Navarijo, director of WSU’s First Scholars Program, has been searching for other programs like it.

“Not only is it uncommon for first generation students to study abroad, but we have the same advisors working with the students from the moment they express interest in participating, throughout the trip, until the moment they return home,” she said.

GoAbroad.com is a one-stop information center for students wishing to travel internationally. The site links prospective travelers with organizations providing international opportunities.

The winner of the award will be announced at the annual NAFSA: Association of International Educators Conference beginning May 29 in Denver.

Learning in a living classroom

Navarijo and 18 WSU first generation students – those whose parents haven’t completed college – will embark Wednesday on a four-week study abroad experience in Rome. Students will take two courses taught by Italian instructors and earn six credits that will satisfy WSU UCORE requirements.

“Since the courses will focus on religion and art, as well as the culture of Italy, most of the sessions will be held on-site – using Rome as a living classroom,” said Navarijo.

Studying abroad changes lives

Navarijo said research shows that students who study abroad earn higher grade point averages and have stronger degree completion rates compared to their peers. Study abroad is a way to learn another language and gain experience with diverse populations – qualities that can help students be competitive in the job market.

Yet, for many reasons, few first generation students nationwide or at WSU take advantage of these opportunities.

Working with the Office of the Provost, the Office for Access, Equity and Achievement and International Program’s Global Learning, Navarijo set out to change that trend by creating the inaugural WSU First Generation Abroad Program in 2015.

Last summer 22 first generation students studied abroad at Universidad Veritas in Costa Rica’s capital city, San José. Navarijo said they came back from the experience with a new perspective on their lives and the world around them.

“Studying abroad gave these students confidence and assurance that will help them adapt to just about any situation they might face in the future,” she said.

Exciting times ahead

Students who are missing out on this summer’s Rome program can begin planning ahead for next summer when first generation students will study in Spain. More information about that opportunity will be provided to students during the academic year.

“With the large number of first generation students attending WSU, and many more on their way, this is really an exciting time for WSU,” said Navarijo, who was recognized last month at the Northwest Symposium on International Faculty-Led Programs with the 2016 Outstanding International Program Faculty Leader Award.

Joining her as advisors on the trip to Rome will be Anjie Bertramson, WSU Global Learning, and Luci Loera, Office for Access, Equity and Achievement.

“Whether it’s the personalized coaching students receive on financing their trip or counseling on how to deal with culture shock, the amount of time invested in this program is unique and amazing,” said Bertramson. “It is so innovative and it deserves to be recognized.”