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Syracuse University’s top performers linked by study abroad
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Is there a link between study abroad and high academic achievement? At Syracuse University, the answer is a resounding yes.
Each year, up to 12 academically outstanding graduating seniors are selected as University Scholars by a committee of faculty from candidates nominated by SU’s schools and colleges. A five-year survey of recent University Scholar winners reveals an increasingly high ratio of students with study abroad background — ranging from one-quarter of recipients in 2005 to more than 90 percent in 2008.
“We’re delighted by this link, but not surprised,” says Jon Booth, executive director of SU Abroad. “The University Scholar award is the highest undergraduate academic honor bestowed by the University, and by their very nature students who choose to study abroad are seeking to challenge themselves and their boundaries.”
International education is also a major component of “Engagement With the World,” one of three major investment focus areas identified by Chancellor and President Nancy Cantor (the other two being “Faculty Excellence and Scholarly Distinction” and “Access and Support for Enterprising Students”).
“Engagement with the World” emphasizes scholarship rooted in ideas, people and professions in the world, and calls for the dissolution of physical and disciplinary boundaries in order for students to test their ideas in the real-world marketplace. Through SU Abroad, students in Italy are able to immerse themselves in the architecture and art history of Florence; in Strasbourg, France, students experience the workings of such entities as the European Union Parliament and Court of Human Rights; and in China and Chile, comparative field and language study equip students to navigate a rapidly diversifying marketplace.
Currently, nearly 50 percent of SU undergraduate students graduate with at least one SU Abroad international experience. Attracted by courses in their major, cultural immersion and a practical and resume-building experience, students consistently cite SU Abroad signature features — the field study seminars, internships, community projects and home stays — as the most valuable experiences abroad. Additionally, 21 out of this year’s 35 Remembrance Scholars have, or will have, study abroad experience by the time they graduate.
Former Strasbourg Center director and SU professor of geography John Western believes the study abroad experience not only fosters the necessary confidence and commitment that creates future scholars, but it also offers an expanded world view they carry with them. Referring to geography and French major Kathleen Gill, one of the 12 University Scholars selected this year, Western says: “Katie perfected her French in Strasbourg during the fall semester and stayed on in spring to enroll in geography courses at Strasbourg’s Louis Pasteur University. Not only her language but also her personal and professional confidence developed exponentially.”
Gill, who will give the undergraduate address at Commencement, is philosophical about her achievements: “Understanding that we are never done discovering the world and that we are never done learning makes the scholar who they are and who they will become. I discovered the French-Alsatian world, but coming back to the Syracuse I rediscovered America, Syracuse, my major and myself. I know that I will never be done discovering, be it at home or abroad.”
In fact, Gill had to choose between home and abroad. While she was accepted into a new master’s degree program in geography in Lyons, France, at L’Ecole Normale Superieure Lettres et Sciences Humaines, she has decided to accept an alternative offer from the CUNY Graduate Center to enroll in a five-year, completely funded, Ph.D program in geography, beginning next fall.