When Furman announced it’s new strategic vision in October—The Furman Advantage, an ambitious effort to transform the student experience and address critical community issues, some likely asked how such an experience would defined. It dawned on me that I am currently part of such an experience, study away. “But”, you say, “study away isn’t new.” And it isn’t, but at Furman, study away encompasses more than taking a few classes in a distant location.
Originally, I was to go to Brussels this fall leading the popular international internship experience that has been successful for 10 years. Since its creation, Furman has developed a mirror program in Edinburgh, Scotland, each spring. The programs are the epitome of the experiences The Furman Advantage will expand. Students live abroad, take two local university classes, one from a Furman faculty member, and engage in an international internship.
After the March 2016 Brussels attacks, the program was at risk; Furman had to weigh the risks of such an experience and the safety of students and staff. We waited tensely for the situation to subside; however, as March became April, we had to evaluate alternatives. Initially, the choice was ‘do we go or not’? However, we discovered a third option—move the trip to Edinburgh where we had an infrastructure in place. It would be difficult. The administrative work done for Brussels would have to be redone, our Edinburgh partner would have to find 21 internships in half the time it takes to find 15, and we would have to figure out course schedules at the local university. Compounding the problem was that this would be done after the students left for the summer.
While the thought of switching was daunting, collectively the university felt student safety was paramount and therefore, Brussels was not an option. However, because Furman is committed to transformative experiences, the decision was made to go to Edinburgh. Initially, there was disappointment. I helped develop the Brussels program but have never led the trip. For students, Brussels was where some had planned to study abroad for three years. However, Furman and the students committed their time and energy to making the trip happen.
As the summer progressed, we worked to get 21 students to Scotland. One afternoon Corey Gheesling ’10, the instructional technologist for the Humanities and Social Sciences, popped into my office to say that coincidentally his roommate from Furman, Cary Fontana ’10, would also be in Edinburgh in the fall. Cary was coming to work on his Ph.D. in political science (Oregon) on a Fulbright Scholarship, and Corey wondered if I would be interested in talking to him.
We exchanged emails and agreed to talk once he arrived. Upon arrival, we met and agreed he would teach a class on Independence Movements in Europe, his dissertation topic. After the Brexit vote in June, Scottish independence was the hottest political topic in Scotland.
Cary’s class is an experience the students can never replace, but if we had been in Brussels or in the states, it would not have happened. Once Cary arrived, he attended every class. Sometimes he just listened, but as time went on, students began engaging him in conversations regarding his expertise and how he got to where he is now. He is now my resource for perspectives on being a young alumnus and a political scientist.
I asked myself what motivated Cary to take this on—teach a class in his area of expertise, yes, but also continue to come to class and engage the students? His answer sums it up.
“After four years at Furman, I realized that no matter where I ended up, I would remain part of the Furman Community. For its small size, the university maintains a global presence through its students and alumni,” he said. “Upon learning from Corey that a study away program would be in Edinburgh, connecting with the class seemed like a great opportunity to reengage the community. During my junior year, I was on the Brussels trip, and if a Furman alum had lived there who possessed an expertise, I would have really appreciated their insight. With that in mind, I wanted to give back to the community that provided me so much. Furman encouraged me to engage all opportunities, and that mindset remains.”
While The Furman Advantage is a new initiative, the university has a long legacy of encouraging student engagement. Furman helps students grow and succeed within the campus community, but they also also prepare them for life outside the bubble.
Learn more about Study Away programs at Furman.