Eight Arkansas Tech University education students traveled to Graz, Austria, during the summer for a month of immersive teaching. The trip was part of the Austrian government’s STARS program which allows U.S. universities to work with their departments of education. On this trip, the city of Graz partnered with ATU to bring education majors into their schools for lessons in English. Graz is the capital city of the southern Austrian province of Styria and one of the best-preserved historic cities in Europe.
According to Shellie Hanna, interim department head and associate professor of curriculum and instruction at ATU, the purpose of this program is to share culture among all participants as well as allow Austrian students to learn and hear English spoken by native speakers.
The ATU students went through an application process and spent the spring semester preparing appropriate lesson plans and learning about the people, food, climate and schools of Austria.
Alaina Smith, a senior elementary education major from Heber Springs, was one of the scholarship recipients. She believes this study abroad opportunity will have a lasting impact on her life. “I think that this experience will help me in my classroom more than anything,” she said. “I learned many new management skills and how to keep the classroom calm (as much as a teacher can). I also think that it gave me the ability to help ESL students in my own classroom. Being abroad in a German-speaking culture made me very aware of how students [who] struggle with English feel in the classroom. Without this experience, I wouldn’t ever have been able to truly understand that.”
For many students, scholarships make all the difference. Senior elementary education major Destiney Carroccio of Mountain Home said the ATU scholarship was a deciding factor for going on the Austria study abroad trip. “This experience helped me grow as an educator and as a person, and that is exactly what I wanted from this trip,” she said.
Of the eight students who traveled to Austria, five received scholarships for a total amount of $3,500. According to Gabriele Haulmark, instructor of English and German and the ATU study abroad coordinator, 48 students received study abroad scholarships during the 2018-19 academic year, totaling just under $30,000. These need-based scholarships are awarded to undergraduate students who participate in study abroad programs for academic credit. Students are awarded up to $1,000 each as funds are available.
“I want to say thank you so much for your donations,” Carroccio said to ATU donors. “I am not sure that this trip would have been possible without you. I learned so much from this experience, and I could not thank you enough.”
Some of the funding for these scholarships came directly from the annual ATU Scholarship Dinner, which raised more than $100,000 in 2019 to support various student scholarship efforts.
According to Haulmark, more than half of ATU students would like to study abroad, but less than one percent do so. She believes this is directly related to a lack of funding, and the Study Abroad Scholarship can assist students in fulfilling their dreams.
"I hope that [study abroad] will open students' minds that there are many things out there beyond what you can see in Arkansas and the surrounding area," said Haulmark. "It will change their lives, and not just right after the trip, but for the rest of their lives. I've had students who have gone on a study abroad trip with us. Then they have studied abroad for a semester, which they never would have considered before. Now, they are working toward a master's degree at a university abroad. It changed their [lives]."
by Felisha Weaver for the Tech Action, Spring 2020