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Students take leave to go abroad

Kaitlynn Riely | Wednesday, April 12, 2006

With more than two dozen study abroad programs in countries throughout the world, Notre Dame offers an off-campus learning experience for nearly every major and academic pursuit.

But for junior Brian Ching, his course of study led him away from University-sponsored sites to a unique program for seminarians in Belgium. Ching took a leave of absence from the College of Arts and Letters during the spring semester to study at Katholike Universiteit Leuven – the Catholic University of Leuven.

Joan Clark, departmental administrator for the Office of International Studies, said from fall 2004 through summer 2005, a total of 1,284 students studied abroad. The majority – 1,063 students – studied through Notre Dame or Saint Mary’s programs, but 221 students used outside programs.

But the process isn’t always easy. Notre Dame encourages its students to study through University-run programs rather than those of other schools, said Dennis Jacobs, Vice President and Associate Provost.

Leave of absence for study purposes, he said, should be a very rare occurrence.

“These kinds of leaves of absence should be extraordinary and the cases should be compelling or strong,” Jacobs said. “The reasons for study abroad are not just ‘I want to be in a country that’s interesting, warm or fun,’ but involves a set of courses that they couldn’t find in South Bend or in any of the other programs.”

To study abroad in an outside program during the academic year, a student takes a leave of absence from his college. The dean of the college must approve the leave of absence, and then the request is sent to the registrar’s office. During the 2005-06 academic year, a total of 74 students took an approved leave of absence for medical, personal or study reasons.

Of these 74, 16 received study leaves of absence, said Jennie Bracket, Grading and Academic Records Specialist for the Office of the Registrar.

Ching, a political science major enrolled in the Old College Undergraduate Seminary Program, became interested in Leuven after the director of the Old College program described it as “a place to send a seminarian to study abroad without taking him out of a seminary.”

“The program has enabled me to get an abroad experience while retaining seminary life, the Liturgy of the Hours, daily Eucharist, spiritual direction, etc.,” Ching said in an e-mail.

In the College of Science, Associate Dean Sister Cathleen Cannon oversees applications for study leaves of absence. Cannon regulates the number of leaves by verifying the absence is for academic reasons and not just so the student can go abroad.

“I ask the student to write a statement of how this is going to advance their academic program,” Cannon said. “Decisions are made based on academic priorities.”

To ensure the prospective curriculum is equivalent to courses given at Notre Dame, Cannon researches the student’s desired school and program and evaluates whether Notre Dame will accept transfer grades from the school. In some cases, Cannon knows from past experiences that certain schools and programs are unreliable at sending transcripts back.

“I want them to be sure that they are getting good information and that they know before they go whether classes will count or how they will count,” Cannon said.

Samuel Gaglio, assistant dean of the Mendoza College of Business, said the most frequent reason he has had students apply for study leaves of absence in the past is because they were not accepted into any of the Notre Dame programs.

“When a student asks me about it, there has to be a significant academic component…that could be an exception,” Gaglio said.

In the architecture and engineering colleges, the instance of study leaves of absence is much less frequent. John Uhran, senior associate dean in the College of Engineering, said during the past three years only one student has taken a study leave of absence.

“It is not an issue in the College of Engineering,” Uhran said.

In the rare case that a student does study abroad, Uhran researches the prospective school’s reputation, the courses offered and the course syllabi to ensure “quality control.”

Uhran said it is the College’s goal to graduate its students in four years, pointing out that many of the approximately 40 percent of each class of engineering students who go abroad do so in the summer.

The School of Architecture is unique in that a study abroad program is built into the curriculum – third year students spend two semesters studying in Rome. Assistant Dean Father Richard Bullene said he has never been approached by an architecture student asking for a study leave of absence.

“Theoretically, we would entertain the thought of if someone has a grand idea,” Bullene said. “I suppose I could imagine it, but it has never happened.”

Assistant Dean Jennifer Nemecek in the College of Arts and Letters said leaves of absence are a great option for students who fail to find a program that suits their needs in the regular study abroad offerings.

“It’s a wonderful program to complement a student’s academic portfolio,” Nemecek said. This year, Arts and Letters students took leaves of absence to countries including Argentina, Madagascar and Switzerland.

For Ching, a leave of absence has given him a chance to study abroad while continuing his academic course and seminary training.

“There is a much broader and greater variety of views and it gives me a chance to meet other seminarians who are studying for a diocese and enables me to grow in my understanding of the Priesthood, both in the diocesan and consecrated religious context,” Ching said.