IDEAS Grant Promotes Study Abroad for NMU Education Majors

From left: White, Kennedy and Bergh at the Xunantunich Mayan Ruins in Belize during their preliminary site visit to San Ignacio.

Northern Michigan University has received $35,000 from the U.S. Department of State to initiate study-abroad opportunities for education students that will better prepare them to humanize diverse populations and cultures in their teaching careers. NMU was one of 37 universities—and the only one in Michigan—to share in $1.3 million awarded via the 2024 Increase and Diversify Education Abroad for U.S. Students (IDEAS) program grant competition.

Through a partnership with the nonprofit organization Heart to Heart Belize, NMU faculty members will lead students on a 10-day immersion in literacy-based activities in the San Ignacio area of the country next May. They will assist teachers in local classrooms, tutor small groups and distribute/read books at a community market.

The P12 student population in the United States is increasingly diverse culturally, linguistically and racially, said Assistant Professor Kristen White, who wrote the successful grant application with colleagues Bethney Bergh and Laura Kennedy.

"If education graduates go on to teach in a context where their students' culture and language are different from their own, they need to be prepared to do so. This is an equity issue,” White added.

“We see the gap in the Michigan Department of Education surveys we have our student teachers and their mentors complete," Kennedy said. "One of the questions is how well prepared are you to work with diverse populations and our candidates are telling us that they're not prepared. Their mentors are telling us our candidates aren't prepared. This is an opportunity for us to close that gap a bit for both future and practicing teachers. We're ecstatic.”

“The faculty seeking this grant used our program outcomes data to define a need and opportunity to improve structured opportunities with diverse populations and diverse literature for our teacher candidates,” said Joe Lubig, assistant dean and director of the School of Education, Leadership and Public Service. “I love how this team coordinated a plan to improve our programs, the teacher candidate experience and the experiences of P12 students in a way that assures our colleagues in Belize are equal partners in this experience.”

The grant includes an exchange component of bringing Heart to Heart Belize's founder to campus. He will present information on Belize culture and the country's education system to a winter semester course preceding the NMU delegation's departure to prepare students and faculty for what they will experience in the country.

All three faculty members who wrote the grant can vouch for the value of international education based on their own past experiences abroad. Kennedy studied in Kenya while in college, then taught professionally for seven years in South Korea.

“It allowed me to see education from another lens through a different culture, and to think about the linguistic demands of education,” she said. “So many things are English- and text-based. There were eight languages represented in my Korean classroom. I had to consider how you communicate and teach when you don't share a common language. That experience was life-changing for me. I think it will be very powerful for our students as well, because at the school we're partnering with in Belize, four languages are represented: English, Mayan, Creole and Spanish.”

The faculty leading this work will also partner with community and tribal colleges, assuring that NMU is also leveraging regional rural partnerships.

“A lot of our students transfer from community colleges,” said White. “When we looked at the research on which student population was least likely to study abroad, it's actually students at community colleges. So we're going to start with Bay College in Escanaba this coming year, and next year we'll be able to recruit from all four in the U.P. We are trying to increase access to international experiences for students who might not otherwise have that opportunity.”

The faculty trio had applied for the IDEAS grant twice before, but the third time proved to be the charm. They received support from Director of International Programs Lila Isleib and Director of Research Development and Sponsored Programs Tesse Sayen.

Prepared By

Kristi Evans
News Director

Categories: Around NMU, Strategic Plan