For today's college students, there is growing value in gaining international experience on the way to a degree. Potential employers like to see study abroad programs on resumes because students come home with a better understanding of a global economy, and unique experiences that make them more valuable employees.
Students enrolled in the Iowa State University College of Agriculture have about 30 opportunities to travel and study abroad each year. New this year is the chance for students to spend time learning while helping people in other countries.
"We stress career development when recruiting students, but we know there are many other benefits to participation," says Shelley Taylor, agriculture study abroad director. "The idea behind service learning programs is for students to experience the culture and agriculture as a member of the community. That is different from a 'windshield tour' where they see the country and the agriculture, but not from such a close vantage point."
The first service learning program offered by the Iowa State agriculture college is a cooperative venture with Self Help International, a non-profit organization based in Waverly, that conducts projects in developing countries in rural transportation, grain production, nutrition and youth leadership.
"Students from ag engineering, agronomy, sociology, economics, ag business, seed science, animal science, and food science and nutrition could find something of interest in this program," Taylor says. "The college has had numerous informal relationships with Self Help for the past 40 years, but this is the first time they have invited our students to work with their volunteers. They offered the in-country support necessary to make this work."
Nicole Gale, a graduate student in agricultural education and studies, returned to Iowa in early September after a month-long visit to Ghana. "It was a wonderful experience," she says. "It gave me a chance to give something to others, while learning about another culture." Gale's interest is in youth development, so she spent much of her time working with Ghana's National Youth Council. The council conducts leadership institutes so young people in rural areas can learn vocational skills. In some cases, students can qualify for loans to start small businesses. Gale visited poultry farms established by students with $50 loans that they paid back with egg sales.
Students are being recruited for future service learning programs. Taylor wants to send more students to Ghana next summer, and hopes to establish similar programs in other countries.