Rutgers launches embedded study abroad programs
While many students spent their spring break in Cancun, Miami or in the comfort of their own beds, a group of students and their professor spent their time abroad touring Paris and London.
The Department of Journalism and Media Studies at Rutgers launched its first of two embedded study abroad programs this semester. Enrolled students spent one week during the traveling to the location they studied in class.
One of the courses’ groups traveled to London and Paris over spring break with Journalism and Media Studies associate professor Susan Keith, splitting the week evenly between both cities. They met with seasoned journalists and visited several media organizations, including the International New York Times, France 24, The Guardian and the BBC.
The other course offered by the department plans to spend their week in Guatemala toward the end of May with associate professor Regina Marchi.
When Rutgers joined the Big Ten Conference, it also joined the Committee on Institutional Cooperation, which is similar to an academic association, Keith said. These universities meet together every year and share information with each other about their schools.
“One of the things that came to light with Rutgers was that we had the smallest percentage of students studying abroad of any of those CIC schools,” Keith said.
This concerned Rutgers administration, and one of the concerns was that students could not study abroad because they simply can not afford to travel for a whole semester, Keith said.
“There was a push at Rutgers to make more sort of short-term study abroad programs available,” she said.
The push for the embedded study abroad programs to become a reality came when associate professor Claire McInerney called for proposals by School of Communication and Information faculty to plan an embedded study abroad course, said Jack Bratich, chair of the Department of Journalism and Media Studies.
“Then the school would sort of fund a preliminary trip for a faculty member to go check out the places, to set up the contacts,” Bratich said. “Two of the three winners that year (for the funding) were JMS faculty out of all the three departments, Dr. Keith and Dr. Regina Marchi, so we were really excited about that.”
Since the embedded program was a pilot for these types of courses, Bratich said it was a learning process to figure out what needed to be done in order for the program to launch, meaning they required about one year’s worth of preparation.
Bratich added that the department was down to the wire even in January with not knowing how many students were going to sign up for either courses.
“The first time for everything takes a long time. None of us knew what we were doing, and so we were all learning as we went. To see it take place is fantastic,” he said.
The locations for both of the courses — London, Paris and Guatemala — were chosen by the instructors because of their familiarity of the areas and their ties to journalism and the media studies.
“It’s instructor driven. Professor Keith really knows her (way around) Paris and London well, and her media outlets,” Bratich said. “Similarly with Prof. Marchi who studies social change and social global movements, and has been down there in Guatemala.”
Bratich also said that prior to the Nov. 13 terrorist attacks in Paris, they initially thought the Guatemala location was going to be more controversial given its longer history with these sorts of struggles.
“(Following the attacks) we were like 'oh my gosh, is anyone going to sign up for this course now?'” he said. “We were really worried at that point that the news was just going to override everything and parental concerns were going to take over.”
After the Nov. 13 attacks, Keith talked to study abroad administrators about the safety and continuation of the trip, and said something they really looked to was what the government was saying.
“The whole time we were watching what the State Department was saying, looking for any indication from the government that there would be any estimation they felt France was unsafe,” Keith said. “But all the same, we had lots and lots of plans to keep the group safe in case something happened once we left.”
Despite prior safety concerns and most recent terrorist attacks in Paris and Brussels, the JMS department is hopeful to continue these embedded study abroad programs in the future.
One program is already in the works for next year. This embedded course will involve a trip to Italy with Mary D’Ambrosio, a former news correspondent specializing in international affairs, who now serves assistant professor in the Department of Journalism and Media Studies, Bratich said.
Samantha Karas is a School of Arts and Sciences senior majoring in journalism and media studies and English. She is a correspondent for The Daily Targum. Follow her on Twitter @samanthakaras for more.