GVSU ranks sixth nationally for number of students who study abroad

group of people pictured on a study abroad trip in El Salvador
Julie Guevara, fourth from left, is pictured with students on a recent study abroad trip to El Salvador. GVSU was ranked sixth nationally for the number of students who participate in study abroad programs.
Image Credit: courtesy photo

Grand Valley was ranked sixth nationally in its category for the number of students who studied abroad in 2018-2019, according to the Institute of International Education.

During that reporting year, 752 GVSU students participated in a study abroad program (semester exchange programs, internships, faculty-led and other credit-bearing programs). Leading the master's colleges and universities category was James Madison University, with 1,392 students. Grand Valley has been ranked in the top 10 for number of students studying abroad 10 times during the last 19 years of IIE reporting.

Elena Selezneva, intercultural faculty/coordinator of faculty-led programs for the Padnos International Center, said more than half of the students who study abroad do so by choosing a faculty-led program.

"Professors are at the heart of Grand Valley," Selezneva said. "Their enthusiasm and devotion, professionalism and readiness to deal with whatever comes their way makes these programs successful."

Julie Guevara, left, and Paola Leon in El Salvador
Julie Guevara, left, and Paola Leon in El Salvador; Leon will co-led the trips following Guevara's retirement.
Image Credit: courtesy photo

Julie Guevara, professor of social work, has led a study abroad program to El Salvador and Guatemala for students majoring in social work since 1997. Guevara retired from Grand Valley in December after 31 years of service; she said her passion for international education came from her own experiences as a student when she visited the former Yugoslavia in 1978.

Guevara said it was the relationships she developed as a doctoral student working on a dissertation about women and micro-enterprises in Guatemala that led to developing a service learning study abroad program.

"I was telling these women about my own study abroad trip and they said, 'You should do one,"" Guevara said. 

After enthusiastic approval from former dean Rod Mulder, Guevara received a grant from Johnson Center for Philanthropy that covered half the cost for each student. "By the third year, it was a regular study abroad program and a permanent course in the social work curriculum," she said.

Students on those trips have helped communities in Guatemala and El Salvador by working on municipal projects and assisting with health education classes. Guevara said they have also learned more about social justice and its role within the field of social work.

"I'm so grateful to the staff at PIC for their expertise and for recognizing the strength of the relationships we have with community leaders in these countries. They have allowed us to continue and grow this program," Guevara said.

Social work faculty members Paola Leon and Jamie Langlois will continue to lead the social work trip.