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In Support of Studying Abroad

CMU assistant professor and community leader create the International Experience and Learning Fund

Experiencing other cultures firsthand can be a powerful vehicle for growth and transformation, and with the creation of a new fund Colorado Mesa University is working to make study abroad opportunities more affordable and accessible.

Created by Assistant Professor of Political Science Holly Oberle, PhD, and CMU alumna and Grand Junction Mayor Anna Stout, the program is different from similar study abroad initiatives because it focuses on opening international experience and travel to students who may not otherwise have the resources to participate. The program takes a unique approach by offering shorter trips that are more affordable. In addition to saving students money, shorter trips allow those that have jobs to balance their existing responsibilities with overseas opportunities. Oberle officially launched the initiative when she deposited $50 into a new account at the CMU Foundation called the International Experience and Learning Fund.

The program will initially focus on trips to El Salvador, where the City of Grand Junction’s “sister city” was established following a previous study abroad program in 2004. El Salvador is an easily accessible travel destination and shares the same currency and time zone as Colorado.

Oberle and Stout both have a passion for global education and cultural connections. They believe that study abroad programs should be more than just “tourism for affluent students,” but should focus on creating a deeper understanding and appreciation of different cultures.

“We want to create an experience where students can learn from connections with the local community, see and truly encounter the culture and history, and gain a new perspective they can take back to Grand Junction,” said Oberle.

To achieve this goal, Oberle is partnering with local leader and elected official Anna Stout, who founded a non-profit while she was a student at CMU that is committed to the same mission. As a student, Stout participated in a study abroad learning trip and has been interested in paying forward the experience to others.

“My trip to El Salvador as a student was my first trip abroad and it completely changed my worldview, and subsequently my life’s path,” Stout said. “I was a first-generation college student and had been raised by a single mother. International travel wasn’t something that was in our budget when I was growing up, so this opportunity through Mesa was game-changing.”

The CMU-led effort is working with local organizations and community leaders in El Salvador to provide students with a unique and immersive experience. Students will have the opportunity to stay in the homes of families in a rural community, visit historical sites and participate in cultural events.

The program has already received a lot of interest from students at CMU. One student, Josselin Sorto Leiva, is excited about the opportunity to travel to El Salvador and learn more about her own Latino heritage.

“I am interested in study abroad opportunities because they have opened me up to new ideas, cultures and challenges like nothing else. They have helped me meet new people and I have shared my culture with others too,” said Leiva.

The program's focus on cultural immersion and relationship-building is also a major draw for students. Many students are looking for more than just a vacation; they want to make a difference in the world and learn about different cultures in a meaningful way.

“Dr. Oberle’s trips are a great opportunity to get out of your comfort zone, learn about a new culture and understand other people’s lives. She is very passionate about giving students the same cultural experiences she has had in her own life ­and she wants to make big things happen for CMU and the Political Science Program,” said CMU undergraduate student Rachael McLemore.

The emerging study abroad program at CMU is creating a new standard for global education, which, as Oberle said, “is essential for students to become informed and engaged citizens of the world."

Stout also plans to donate $100 and will be the second contributor to the International Experience and Learning Fund.

“One hundred dollars is a symbolic start of us putting monies where our passions are.” said Stout.


Written by David Ludlam