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Center offers ‘mini grants’ to study abroad

Katie Kohler | Friday, November 16, 2007

Saint Mary’s students concerned about the cost of studying abroad for a semester or summer have the opportunity to receive “mini grants” through the Lilly Endowment Fund and the Center for Women’s InterCultural Leadership (CWIL).

More than $30,000 has been allotted to the grant program so far this year, said Siqin Yang, assistant director for international and intercultural learning.

On average, students whose grant proposals were approved last year received between $250 and $2,400, Yang said.

“There are no fully funded grants, both in order to spread the assistance to as many students as possible and because these experiences are of great educational value,” Yang said. “It seems appropriate that students contribute what they can.”

Saint Mary’s has offered these grants since 2002. Since then, more than 50 students have received grants to study in places like Brussels, Belgium, Rome, Italy and cities in Argentina. The grants, Yang said, assist students who are wary about traveling abroad for financial reasons.

“The grants help students who have financial need realize their study abroad dream and enhance their intercultural learning,” she said. “[The recipients] really appreciated the financial support from CWIL.”

Senior Sarah Didier received a grant from CWIL for the European Summer Study program last summer. She spent four weeks traveling through France, England, Scotland and Ireland.

Didier was awarded $2,500. Her total expenses were close to $6,500.

The grant covered roughly 40 percent of her total cost, and she said she would not have been able to participate without aid from CWIL. Didier and her sister both attended the program.

“My parents could have helped one of us out, but not both at the same time,” she said. “We each received $2,500. Through this grant we ended up having an amazing summer.”

Through CWIL, senior Kelly Fahey was able to travel to Greece. She received a $960 grant to put toward the $3,400 cost.

“The Greece trip is an extraordinary experience with incredible teachers. Without the help of CWIL, there is no way I could have gone,” she said.

Senior Kimberly Fugate had a similar story. Fugate, who received $2,300 out of $4,000 to study in Greece, said CWIL’s support was the deciding factor in going abroad.

“In addition to the [CWIL] grant, I was sponsored by my family as well as LaSalle Grill, who helped with my food portion of the trip,” Fugate said. “It was absolutely worth it.”

There are two types of grants: student travel grants and independent student grants.

Student travel grants include semesters abroad and summer programs. Independent student grants, however, are much more competitive.

“Independent grants are used for truly independent study supported by a faculty member and is not affiliated with any study abroad institution,” Yang said. “This type of grant is merit-based and highly competitive.”

The application process is similar to other abroad programs. Recommendations, applications and good college standing are required. In addition, upon returning, students must write a reflection paper and present on their experiences. Attendance at the following year’s Intercultural Learning Showcase is also required.

Programs eligible for grants must be at least two weeks long and not contained within usual financial aid funding, Yang said. Though mostly upperclassmen apply, all students are eligible for the grants.

While CWIL tries to accommodate as many students as possible, its policy requires that no more than 75 percent of a trip’s funding can come from CWIL, said Elaine Meyer-Lee, director of the Center for Women’s InterCultural Leadership.

Meyer-Lee said the grants benefit not only students but also the international and intercultural standards of the College.

“Saint Mary’s is a rare college where committed students with financial need can receive thousands of dollars towards an intensive intercultural experience which they would not otherwise be able to afford,” she said. “Even students with little financial aid can receive money for worthy projects.”

She said she hopes for the continued success of the grant program so more Saint Mary’s students can have positive learning experiences abroad.

“The dedicated students who have taken advantage of this opportunity have found their additional investment well rewarded by life-changing learning,” she said.

Meyer-Lee said she thinks the scale of grants offered at Saint Mary’s is “highly unusual among colleges.”

“Some schools try to offer a little additional scholarship aid for study abroad through a mandatory fee for all students, or alumni donations,” Meyer-Lee said. “But Saint Mary’s students are fortunate that Saint Mary’s received substantial resources to start CWIL and earned a good share of those resources to directly fund students’ international and intercultural learning.”

CWIL also offers faculty grants. The two main categories are faculty research grants or conference attendance grants, Meyer-Lee said.