Ithaca College’s study abroad program was recently recognized through the work of its director Rachel Gould, who was honored with the Volunteer of the Year award for her efforts supporting study abroad.
The award is given by the Institute for the International Education of Students, a nonprofit study abroad organization that runs programs across the globe. The IES is one of the primary affiliated study abroad organizations that the college works with.
According to the IES website, the Volunteer of the Year award recognizes one individual whose volunteer efforts have supported study abroad, while also recognizing that individual’s school for providing multiple ways in which to serve the field.
Recipients of the award are chosen based on their involvement in various organizations that serve the study abroad field, including IES Abroad and its committees and councils, according to the website.
Gould has worked with the college’s Office of International Programs for 15 years. She said she has also been involved with the IES during this time.
Gould said studying abroad is an invaluable experience that has the power to change the course of a student’s life.
“Even for students who aren’t looking for an extremely challenging academic experience, simply the experience of being in another culture, another environment, possibly using another language where they’re a little bit out of their comfort zone — or perhaps a lot out of their comfort zone — presents challenges that can make that person a better learner,” Gould said.
The award, Gould said, also recognizes the college’s study abroad rates compared to national rates. Nationally, each year only 9 percent of graduating college and university students have had a study abroad experience, according to the Institute of International Education.
At the college, Gould said, about 400–600 students of a graduating class typically have had a study abroad experience while at college, which is approximately 30 percent of a class.
“I would say that we’re doing pretty well compared to the national rate,” she said. “We would certainly like to send more students abroad. We would like for everyone to have an abroad experience.”
Reflecting on his experience working with the study abroad office, junior Jon Yoskin, who is currently studying in Australia, said he felt he was able to access the services he needed.
“They helped me quite a bit behind the scenes, making sure documents were processed and getting them where they were supposed to go,” he said.
Sophomore Carolyn Rennie said despite the success of Ithaca College’s study abroad office, she has found her experience with the office to be frustrating when she began planning during her freshman year.
Rennie said her experiences with the office included feelings of being dismissed and made to do much of the necessary processes, such as securing a visa, on her own with limited assistance from the office.
She said the office could probably benefit from expansion.
Gould said the small size of the office, a staff of six, does impact the extent of what ideas from national organizations it can implement, such as developing an online study abroad orientation and utilizing social media to promote the program.
“We’re a very, very busy and very small office, so it’s often just a matter of doing what’s required on a day-to-day basis just to keep the study abroad program moving forward,” Gould said. “There’s a lot of new opportunities and innovation that I would like to some day have a chance to work on, but I don’t know if that will ever happen.”
However, she said the size of the office is also a distinguishing factor for the college, considering its high study abroad rate.
“We do manage to send a lot of people abroad with not a huge department here to work with them, so that does set us apart,” she said.