Shanda Burton ’07 spent J-Term this year in Costa Rica studying Spanish and society.
“Students are looking for experiences that are more adventurous,” said Susan Mann, associate director of The Wang Center for International Programs. “They want their courses to be challenging and demanding and to take them to places they have not traveled before.”
In addition to a healthy list of semester-long study away programs, more and different J-Term courses attract students. PLU’s month-long session has become an ideal time for students to participate in shorter, comprehensive study away programs (See photos from J-Term 2005 on page 41).
Students typically have had access to about 15 J-Term study away courses in any given year. Next year, PLU will offer 26 off-campus J-Term programs.
Among the planned programs are first-ever courses to Antarctica and Japan. Human rights and development issues will be studied in the southwest African nation of Namibia. A math course will travel to Honduras to introduce students to the importance of math education and to provide them the opportunity to work directly with children in schools there.
These programs are typical of the more diverse courses offered to an increasing number of students who want to learn about the world. By the time they graduate, 40 percent of PLU students have spent time in at least one off-campus course – internationally and/or domestically. The national average, by comparison, hovers between 3 and 4 percent. That places PLU in the top 10 among comprehensive masters-level universities in the United States.
“But we need to do better,” said PLU President Loren J. Anderson in an address at the Pathways to Peace symposium in January.
PLU seeks to increase that percentage to at least half the student body by 2010. Citing the Global Education Strategic Plan approved last year, Mann said she aims to improve quality and quantity of opportunities.
Anderson identified the keys to PLU’s continued success in building a globally focused program. “What has been happening at Pacific Lutheran University today has been the process for 30 years,” he said. “It has been the result of the dedicated effort of innovative and creative faculty leaders throughout this time.”
A combination of forces contributes to this growth, Mann said. More professors are getting involved in the program, the key to it all. It has not always been easy to get faculty to lead trips, Mann said, because of the extra work and time involved.
“It is deeply meaningful and can be a lot of fun, but it is a heck of a lot of work.” she said. “Everybody comes back tired.” The Wang Center helps faculty with administrative aspects, allowing professors to focus on the academic and student elements of their courses.
With more professors committed to study away programs, more disciplines are offering courses. That means a greater selection of increasingly innovative courses.
One program under development (and slated for implementation in 2007) is a J-Term program to Macedonia, where PLU students will explore communication and conflict-resolution strategies in the war-torn Balkan state.
Headed by Ed Inch, acting dean of the School of the Arts, PLU students will work with non-governmental organizations, media outlets and aspiring politicians to help establish peace in a region where ethnic violence is rampant.
Programs such as this connect The Wang Center’s vision to “educate for a just, healthy, sustainable, and peaceful world” with student interests. And the results, said Inch, can be profound.
“This is a great example where education is not simply an academic exercise, but a real-world thing,” said Inch. “This is education that is immediate, forceful and important.”