Expanding the Classroom: U of A Promotes Study Abroad

By Michele Dobbins 

For many students, studying abroad is an unforgettable and life-changing event. Realizing the value of an engaging, global education, the University of Arkansas Honors College launched the “This is Your Classroom” campaign, which led to a 50 percent increase in the number of honors students signing up to go abroad. The campaign components included a postcard, brochure, three videos, and an article in the Honors College alumni magazine A+, all aimed at informing and motivating students for service learning, home stays, research trips, and more. Not only has the campaign been effective in its mission to increase participation, but it has also won several awards, including a Silver Telly in the 37th Annual Telly Awards for its videos chronicling students’ 2015 trips to Mozambique, University of Arkansas Rome Center, and Panama. It also won two CASE District III awards for 2016, which “recognizes the very best in advancement across the Southeast,” according to the U of A press release

Phi Beta Kappa member and Honors College Director of Communications Kendall Curlee has been an instrumental part of this program. Teaming up with U of A leaders such as video producer Will Geisler and former Honors College associate dean Carol Gattis, Curlee began to conceptualize the project in fall 2014. Tony Steck from the design firm DOXA helped develop the campaign’s “This is your classroom” theme, pairing the slogan “This could be your new student ID” with an image of a passport for the brochure feature. These elements emphasized the idea that education happens everywhere, not just on a campus.

“Really, the big lesson is how to engage respectfully with other cultures,” Curlee said about the benefits of studying abroad. “Learning how to make your way around on a train, plane, busses, boats—everything that you do when you study abroad is really a learning experience.”

She also adds that these lessons are vital for preparing graduates for their careers.

“Study abroad, especially given that we are more and more a global marketplace, really gives you an edge and sets you apart. So we want to encourage more of our students to go abroad because we think it’s important for your future,” Curlee said.

The campaign stresses the accessibility of travel opportunities. According to the postcard and brochure, the Honors College provides more than $500,000 in study abroad grants each year. These grants are funded by a portion of the $300 million gift to U of A from the Walton Family Charitable Support Foundation. Curlee credits the Walton gift as helping to “create a culture here on campus where it’s not some rare luxury to study abroad. It’s something people want to do, and we can help make that happen.” 

The U of A’s study abroad program has long been a successful one, with half of all honors students taking advantage of these opportunities by the time they graduate—a percentage that is five times the national average of 10 percent of undergraduates, according to Curlee.

Curlee herself never got to study abroad as an undergraduate, although a trip to New York City for a Plan II honors colloquium one spring break greatly impacted her. This experience helped shape her desire to get involved with honors education.

“I think it was one of the reasons I took this job with the Honors College because I thought, ‘They are just really making amazing opportunities for students, and I want to help get the word out on that,’” Curlee explained.

Curlee said her “art history degree serves me well every day” as it trained her to think critically about composition and visuals in a campaign such as this one.

In addition to ΦBK’s focus on education, the organization has a personal meaning for Curlee: her grandmother Virginia Brown Curlee was a member as an undergraduate at the University of Colorado, so Curlee wears both her own and her grandmother’s keys when she attends ΦBK events.

“I wear it to honor her because she was so delighted when I was invited to join,” Curlee said. 

Reflecting on the values of ΦBK, Curlee observed: “The creativity is so important to me. It’s hard, in a way, to be creative, but when I am being creative, that’s when I’m happiest.”

Michele Dobbins is a senior at University of Arkansas majoring in English. University of Arkansas is home to the Alpha of Arkansas Chapter of Phi Beta Kappa.