University Relations and Communications

MSU Billings launches efforts to expand study abroad program

May 20, 2014



Kirsten McKinney, Study Abroad Program Manager, 657-1760
Carmen Price, University Relations, 657-2269


MSU BILLINGS NEWS SERVICES — Montana State University Billings has launched new efforts focused on increasing the number of students who study abroad.


Finland Seinäjoki University of Applied Sciences

“At MSU Billings, we recognize and emphasize the importance of global awareness and believe that a study abroad experience enhances a student’s global outlook and overall education,” said MSUB Provost Dr. Mark Pagano. “MSUB is committed to providing educational experiences that serve to advance students' future careers. Students benefit greatly from international experiences that provide opportunities to participate in the global economy, or to work together across borders to address global issues.”


As part of MSUB’s strategic plan to be exposed to and gain awareness of a variety of diverse global issues, the Office of International Studies and Outreach partnered with with the Institute of International Education’s Generation Study Abroad aiming to increase the number of students studying abroad to at least 50 students annually by 2020—about five percent of overall degrees conferred by MSUB.


Last year, 13 students studied abroad in China, Costa Rica, Germany, Finland, Spain and the United Kingdom in programs ranging from four-weeks to the full academic year. MSUB presently offers study abroad programs in 12 countries through a variety of institutional partnerships and exchange agreements and is working to provide additional opportunities that include short-term, faculty-led trips in the coming year.


“For many of us, our study abroad as undergraduates is our first chance to travel outside the United States,” MSUB International Studies and Outreach Director Dr. Paul Foster said. “Study abroad offers our students the opportunity to engage foreign cultures, learn how others solve problems and devise solutions that could be brought home.” 


As part of the initiative, The Office of International Studies and Outreach is revising existing agreements and seeking out new partnerships, Foster said. With partnering institutions, students pay to study abroad what they would pay for MSUB tuition, which can be funded through local scholarships and financial aid. 


“We have a number of new or reinvigorated relationships with institutions in Asia, France, Macedonia and the UK,” he said. “There are numerous options and opportunities for students, and the only out-of-ordinary expense is airfare."


In March, the university hired Kirsten McKinney as its full-time Study Abroad Program Manager to help further the mission to expand the study abroad program.


“Study Abroad changed my life, so much so that I have built a rewarding career in international education,” McKinney said. “I am a firm believer that all students should be provided with the opportunity to study abroad and that we must strive to make these experiences more accessible, both academically and financially.”


The office plans to launch a new Global Ambassador Scholarship for the 2014-2015 academic year, working closely with faculty to increase the number of short-term programs abroad, ideally embedding those experiences in existing curriculum on campus.


The initiative is also focused on increasing the diversity of the students who study abroad, removing barriers to participation for underserved students.


Accounting major Kendra Galahan, from Harlowton, spent a semester in Finland last year. She said it was the best experience of her life. 


“I had the opportunity to meet people from all over the world and learn bits and pieces about several different cultures,” she said. “Finland always felt so peaceful—whether it was the multitude of trees and lakes, the snow or the Northern lights. I was also able to travel to neighboring countries and it was such a great opportunity to experience the uniqueness of each of them. I found myself to be a more open-minded and independent person by the end of the four months. I strongly recommend study abroad to everyone."


Student mobility is a key component of the MSUB internationalization strategy, Foster said.


“Nobody returns from a study abroad program the same as when they left,” he said. "You are changed forever and learn first-hand that the world is a diverse, fascinating place.”


And, the same goes for international students who study at MSUB. Foster said the international population studying at MSUB has increased nearly five-fold since 2009 to nearly 160 students from 15 different countries last year.


“We have done an outstanding job building a robust international student population on our campus,” said Pagano. “Now imagine what value our Montana students could add to other institutions throughout the world.”


MSUB is one of 308 partners that have joined Generation Study Abroad including: 241 U.S. colleges and universities from 46 states; nine non-U.S. institutions; 12 education associations; 34 study abroad organizations; and 11 U.S. and foreign government entities including the U.S. Department of State and the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. Recognizing the importance of an internationally focused workforce, IIE is also actively seeking the participation of corporations and the business community. 


Fewer than 10 percent of all U.S. college students study abroad during their academic career, according to the International and Educational Exchange’s Open Doors Report. Generation Study Abroad aims to grow participation in study abroad so that the annual total reported will reach 600,000 by the end of the decade. 


“Globalization has changed the way the world works, and employers are increasingly looking for workers who have international skills and expertise,” Dr. Allan Goodman, president of IIE, said in a news release. “Studying abroad must be viewed as an essential component of a college degree and critical to preparing future leaders.”


PHOTO ABOVE: Finland Seinäjoki University of Applied Sciences. Photo taken by Accounting major Kendra Galahan, from Harlowton, who spent a semester in Finland last year.