Dramatic rise in College of Ag Sciences students studying abroad

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- In the past decade, the number of students in Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences studying abroad has grown exponentially.

While less than 1 percent of students participated in study-abroad programs 10 years ago, the College of Agricultural Sciences' most recent senior exit survey indicated that nearly 25 percent of its most recent graduating class had participated in some kind of international experience during their four years at Penn State.

Ketja Lingenfelter, the college's study abroad coordinator, cited expanded international offerings and a heightened awareness of the programs as contributing factors in the growing number of student participants.

"Our college has cultivated a deep commitment to international studies -- from the dean to the international programs director to the faculty and staff," she said. "We understand the fundamental value of studying abroad to students."

Lingenfelter said many newly offered programs appeal to a wide variety of students. "Students who before didn't have time in their schedules now have the opportunities to take embedded courses," she explained. "These classes have an international component that is supplemental to their normal academic schedule, but they don't require students to be abroad for an entire semester."

Embedded courses are generally three credits each. Lingenfelter noted that these courses lend themselves particularly well to students majoring in Environmental Resource Management and in Community, Environment, and Development, which rely heavily on out-of-classroom experience.

Currently, ten embedded courses are offered by the Office of International Programs in the College of Agricultural Sciences.

"We've really found a niche with our international offerings because many faculty in the college work and conduct research abroad," she said. "They often will take students with them for a week or up to a month as part of an embedded course and show them firsthand aspects of agriculture in the country they are visiting."

Students now may participate in semester study-abroad programs and summer-abroad programs tailored specifically for international agriculture minors, Spanish in agriculture immersion courses, and sustainable agriculture programs in Brazil and France, among others.

In total, students in the College of Agricultural Sciences experienced international education in 23 countries in the 2011-2012 school year.

Lingenfelter pointed out that a large majority of students who apply for study abroad receive some sort of financial aid and that the average costs of Penn State study-abroad opportunities often are lower than those offered by other universities. That is especially true for embedded courses offered by the College of Agricultural Sciences.

According to Lingenfelter, the number of grants and scholarships for study-abroad programs has increased, due in large part to the generous support and donations from the college's alumni and other donors who value education abroad. She explained that this has opened the door for more students to participate, as well.

These scholarship opportunities include the Settlemyer, Steele, Harbaugh and Young endowments, the Give Others The Chance To Have an Adventure Program -- often referred to as the GOTCHA Program -- and the Global Opportunities, or GO!, Fund.

"You have a much better opportunity to go abroad when you're in college than after you graduate," said Lingenfelter. "And there are so many advantages. You're able to see things you're not able to as a tourist, and the experience often can help solidify your job track.

"Studying abroad also shows future employers that you're independent and responsible and that you possess global awareness."

Lingenfelter added that she has never heard of anyone who came back from an international experience and wished they hadn't gone.

Students who participated in study-abroad programs in the spring semester echoed her sentiments.

"The experience opened my eyes to international perspectives and new opportunities available outside of the United States," said Jillian Gordon, a sophomore agricultural and extension education major who participated in an embedded course in Korea.

Sophomore Matthew Reutlinger, also an agricultural and extension education major who participated in the Korea trip, had similar feelings. "The experience made me realize that people are the same no matter where you go," he said. "We all have the same desires, and we all just want to be successful and happy. It was cool to actually discover that abroad."


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Last Updated September 09, 2015