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UHCL expands 'educational horizon' in study abroad with federal grant

August 18, 2020 | UHCL Staff

UHCL student study abroad in Oman.
Photo Credit: Badar Al Yazeedi, Panorama Tours


University of Houston-Clear Lake has been selected to receive an Increase and Diversify Education Abroad for U.S. Students Grant from the U.S. Department of State’s Capacity Building Program for U.S. Study Abroad. UH-Clear Lake is one of 24 colleges and universities across the U.S. that will create, expand and diversify American student mobility overseas in support of U.S. foreign policy goals.

Since 2016, Associate Professor of Anthropology and Cross-Cultural Studies Maria Curtis has led students on an annual 10-day study trip to the Sultanate of Oman. “As a Middle East scholar, I love to see students become interested in the Arab world through visiting Oman,” she said. “Students gain a whole new educational horizon. They start to think about the world and what they want to do in different ways. Now, in keeping with the theme of the (UHCL-Sultan Qaboos Cultural Center) Energy and Environmental Stewardship Conference that took place last fall, I’d like to continue that momentum using this grant.”

Oman, explained Curtis, has an unusual track record in the Middle East, demonstrating exceptional dedication to protecting the environment and using natural resources wisely. “There’s a very complex portfolio of environmental strategies in place in Oman — which is about 75% desert — to ensure their long-term food security. The next trip, tentatively scheduled for May 2021, will focus on studying food security in Oman. The primary idea is to learn from Oman, a country that has managed issues around food security for quite a while,” she said.

UHCL’s Office of Global Learning and Strategy is actively working to promote programs that prepare American students for a global environment and help distinguish their college education with an international experience. Executive Director of Education Abroad and Scholar Services Bianca Schonberg, who proposed applying for the IDEA grant, said it will elevate and expand the mobility of both students and faculty.

“I’m hoping that through this grant, students will become more aware of study abroad opportunities, but we want faculty to see that they also have the chance to build a study abroad program built around their courses or their area of research,” Schonberg said. Curtis’ long-term focus on food security, said Schonberg, was the reason why she was excited about applying for the grant.

The grant is part of a sustained effort in the U.S. State Department to bring more students into the fold of study abroad because of its long-lasting impact on students’ sense of purpose, sense of self, and the educational goals they choose to make for themselves.

The complementary elements of the grant will help make study abroad programs generally more visible on campus, for both students and faculty. “Students can learn about other international options and we’ll have specific programs to build up Dr. Curtis’ Oman program,” Schonberg said.

Curtis said that what’s special about this grant is its potential to offer Hispanic and non-traditional students an experience they never imagined. “UHCL is a Hispanic-Serving Institution, and this is another way we can help serve that population,” she said. “In preparing my rationale for why we should receive this grant, I researched information about Latino students going to the Arab world and there’s nearly nothing in the academic literature on this group studying in this part of the world. This is a unique opportunity for them.”

The grant will also allow UHCL to address barriers that may prevent students from considering international travel. “Even something as simple as getting a passport—students don’t know where to go because they don’t always think of themselves as travelers,” she said. “The grant will help us offer passport and travel preparedness workshops for all students at UHCL who want to learn more about Study Abroad. Additionally, students who go on this trip will also have some training in Arabic as well.”

Schonberg said the grant also enables the university to work with faculty make study abroad available to more students. “We can’t have study abroad programs without the faculty. We can also work closely with first-generation and non-traditional students to help them learn how to gain access to scholarships and grants to cover their study abroad. Our goal is to diversify the pool of students going to study abroad.”

Learn more about UHCL's Education Abroad opportunities online.