Many demographics can remain underrepresented among those studying abroad

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Despite abundant resources and opportunities provided for students to gain valuable cultural and educational experiences from studying abroad, many demographics remain underrepresented at the University, said Gretchen Cook-Anderson, director of diversity recruitment and advising of the Institute for the International Education of Students Abroad.

Cook-Anderson said underrepresented students include members of racial and ethnic minorities, economically needy students, first-generation college students, GLBT students, students with learning or physical disabilities, males and natural science majors. She said affluent, Caucasian females typically are the most highly represented.

Cook-Anderson and Andrew Gordon, president of education organization Diversity Abroad, said in a study abroad presentation on Tuesday that the mission of their organizations is to promote study abroad opportunities for students who have traditionally been underrepresented in the study abroad demographics.

“I was one of these [underrepresented] students,” Cook-Anderson said. “Studying abroad at my university was a very unusual undertaking, and now I am working to help students learn about their opportunities.”

Gordon said the four barriers getting in the way of students going abroad are fear, family, finances and faculty. He said many students are fearful of language barriers and cultural differences and also face pressure from parents to stay close to home. Gordon said the financial barriers are not difficult to overcome if students learn about and seek the millions of dollars offered in scholarships and financial aid. Gordon said faculty members may potentially discourage students from studying abroad because they tend to prefer that students research and work at the university where they also work.

“It’s important to be honest with yourself and talk about the fears you have,” Gordon said. “These concerns might prevent you from going abroad, and it’s helpful to talk to someone who has actually gone abroad.”

Margaret McCullers, program coordinator of the UT Study Abroad Office, said the University has an initiative to expand study abroad access.

“We are looking at who studies abroad and identifying groups that are underrepresented,” McCullers said.

Heather Barclay Hamir, director of the Study Abroad Office, said UT sends around 2,300 students on study abroad programs each year. She said the national average for racial and ethnic minorities participating in study abroad programs is around 15 to 20 percent, while UT has almost 40 percent representation. She said the University has nearly $1 million available in study abroad scholarship opportunities.

“We want the makeup of students who study abroad to mirror the demographics of the campus as a whole,” Barclay Hamir said.

Nursing sophomore Jose Escarcega said he is interested in studying abroad in Spain or England and originally thought it would be hard to do so.

“At first it seems challenging, but talking to the study abroad advisers makes it a lot easier,” Escarcega said. “There are also so many scholarship opportunities out there.”

Curtiss Stevens, general adviser for the UT SAO, said the purpose of the diversity outreach program is to make students more connected to the opportunities that are available because of the benefits for students and the University as a whole.

“Going abroad strengthens you academically,” Stevens said. “The numbers show it increases retention rates, which is something the University is working on.”

Published on Wednesday, Novermber 9, 2011 as: Study abroad trends see race, gender disparities