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SUMMER 2 0 0 6

Extraordinary off-campus opportunities

  By Blake Rasmussen '05  

Cornell students have a sense of adventure. After all, they chose to attend one of the only two national liberal arts colleges with a block calendar. So it's not surprising that they have a desire to explore knowledge in the most appropriate setting, where the excitement of learning is at its highest.

For Alice Wagner '06, the setting was the Bahamas studying fire coral and swimming along an underwater structre called The Wall, where she and her classmates encountered a solitary shark near the edge of a cliff that dropped into nothingness.

Fifty student and alumni musicians toured Italy as part of the Cornell Chamber Singers and Chamber Orchestra in May 2005 for the Music in Europe course.

For senior Britton Walker, it was on the medical mission Operation Walk in Nicaragua, where she appeared on a national television station speaking in Spanish about the joint replacement surgeries they were performing for free. She assisted on some of the 54 operations and helped translate for English-speaking doctors.

For Jessica Butala '06, it was in Bolivia, going to town, seeing the weekly dog show, and relaxing by the pool with her host family, whom she's come to consider her own.

This year marks the beginning of a push at Cornell to create more stories like theirs. Born of a charge from President Les Garner, Cornell's Strategic Planning Subcommitee on Off-Campus Study has set the goal of doubling the number of international and off-campus opportunities for students in the coming years.

"Encouraging students to study abroad is critically important. After all, we live in a global world," said Brenda Tooley, dean and vice president of academic affairs. "Events in the Middle East touch our lives daily. China's economic potential will very likely play a role in our student's futures, and even today Spanish is the prevalent language in many parts of the American Southwest. Throughout history, Western literature and art have been shaped by the influences from many, many cultures. We need to prepare our students for this world. I want them to be comfortable within it!"

Improving the process

Those kinds of experiences, while facilitated by the block plan, have often been difficult for students to navigate and afford, preventing international and off-campus study from having a major impact for Cornell students, according to Tooley and others. One of the most important changes to come out of the subcommittees report was the creation of a paid staff position to help students and faculty maximize off-campus opportunities.

"In order to develop better processes, we needed to have a clear point of entry for students," said Dean of Students Karla Carney, a member of the subcommittee. "We needed an office. We needed a point person."

During a semester to Bolivia with Spanish professor Carol Lacy-Salazar (blue poncho), students traveled frequently, including to the ancient Incan city of Machu Picchu.

To this end, the college engaged professors Gayle Luck and Charles Connell to help facilitate international study, as well as Mary Dix Foreman '05 as a full-time secretary for the office. The college hopes that the creation of a full office will increase logistical support for faculty engaged in off-campus courses and give students a valuable resource to assist with the selection and application processes associated with study abroad.

The committee also set in motion several ways to increase student funding. The Registrar's Office and the new Office of Off-Campus Study intend to better publicize the category of student withdrawal, "withdrawal with the intent to return," that allows students to enroll in other colleges' off-campus programs and return with transfer credit. Including Cornell's own international and off-campus courses and the affiliated programs available through the Associated Colleges of the Midwest, as well as non-affiliated study-abroad programs, the college hopes to create 300 opportunities for off-campus study each year.

Students study the architecture at Oxford University during the Theatre, Architecture, and the Arts in England course in January.

Though the positions are not official until the fall, Luck, Connell, and Foreman are already hard at work to make sure that when the office officially opens, it's operating at full tilt.

"They're fabulous," Carney said of the off-campus staff. "They have a real genuine interest and passion for it."

Alumni appear to feel just as strongly about off-campus study. Recently the Class of 1955 gave its 50th reunion gift an off-campus study fund endowment of $131,050. The class felt it was the best project to meet a long-term need of the college. This endowment will supplement the Levy fund for supplemental financial aid for students engaged in Cornell College off-campus courses.

Ellen Backus '06 works with schoolchildren in rural Trinidad during the 2005 anthropology course West Indian People and Culture.

Meredith Clayton '05 and her classmates in Wilderness Politics participate in a canoe trip through the Boundary Waters while studying wilderness management practices and collecting visitor impact data for the U.S. Forest Service.


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