Harvard Professor David Cutler used his grants to create a global health “boot camp” in collaboration with the Harvard Global Health Institute, which prepares students for international experiences. Michael Zhang ’12 (right) was one of the participants in the Harvard Global Health Institute’s International Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship program in Mbarara, Uganda.

Courtesy of Harvard Global Health Institute

Nation & World

Expanding student learning abroad

9 min read

President’s Innovation Fund fuels an array of faculty ideas, options

For David Cutler, grants from the President’s Innovation Fund for International Experiences have been critical in developing three programs that give Harvard undergraduates international experiences in global health.

Cutler, the Otto Eckstein Professor of Applied Economics, has developed an international research experience for undergraduates in Botswana, Bangladesh, Senegal, South Africa, and Uganda. He created a global health “boot camp” in collaboration with the Harvard Global Health Institute that prepares students for international experiences, and, most recently, along with Kolokotrones University Professor of Global Health and Social Medicine Paul Farmer, a program that will put students in active global health care delivery sites run by the nonprofit group Partners In Health, which Farmer co-founded.

“For many students, this is the single most transformative experience in their lives,” Cutler said. “It will change who they are as human beings and what they do in the world.”

For Caroline Elkins, professor of history and chair of the Committee on African Studies, the fund has provided critical support so that she and John Mugane, professor of the practice of African languages and cultures, can develop an eight-week study abroad program in East Africa that will expose students to Kenya’s culture and place in the modern world, give them training in Swahili, and allow them to study wildlife conservation.

Elkins, Cutler, and Farmer are among six faculty members who received the grants during the 2010-11 award cycle. The application deadline for the 2011-12 awards is Oct. 28. A full overview of the program, including policies and application requirements, can be found on the website of the vice provost for international affairs. The President’s Innovation Fund is seen as a key part of Harvard’s effort to give undergraduates quality international experiences.

“These awards are part of our commitment to ensure students are prepared for today’s increasingly globalized world,” said Harvard President Drew Faust. “We are proud to assist these six innovative faculty members as they design high-quality programs that lead students to greater understanding of both their subject matter and the countries in which they study.”

The grants range from $5,000 to $60,000 and are intended to provide faculty members with the support needed to investigate and set up new international programs. Jorge Domínguez, vice provost for international affairs, said that quality programs require appropriate planning, site visits, and interaction with local partners, all expenses incurred before the first student ever steps onto a plane.

The fund was established through the gift of David Rockefeller, most of which went to establish the David Rockefeller International Experience Grants Program in 2009, which funds student study abroad travel, Domínguez said. This year, the grants will fund nearly 400 students, in 50 countries. Since the fund was established three years ago, the grants have funded more than 1,200 undergraduates to pursue summer international experiences of more than eight weeks. The grants can go toward participating in a Harvard Summer School study abroad program taught by Harvard faculty, a Harvard-run internship program, a study abroad program organized by another institution, or an independently designed internship, service project, or research project.

“For hundreds of Harvard College students each year, study abroad has become an integral part of their undergraduate education and their development as engaged citizens in today’s globalized world,” said Harvard College Dean Evelynn M. Hammonds. “Being able to study abroad with Harvard faculty really enhances students’ international experiences in significant ways because it provides a direct link to their work on campus.”

Some of the money from that original Rockefeller donation was designated for faculty members to develop quality study abroad experiences, Domínguez said. The funds are distributed by Faust, on the advice of a steering committee made up of Domínguez, Tamara Rogers, vice president for alumni affairs and development, Hammonds, and John Lichten, PEPFAR executive director and senior adviser for international health programs.

“The idea is to provide resources to faculty to create experiences abroad for Harvard undergraduates that would not have come up in the normal course of events,” Domínguez said. “It is making sure there are good programs over there, wherever over there is.”

Rogers said the programs are required to be at least eight weeks long so they are immersive to the students, allowing them to emerge with an understanding of the culture of the country in which they studied or conducted research. Rogers said her past work as director of international admissions in Harvard College has given her a firsthand view of the impact that Harvard has had on international students, the impact international students have on their peers here, and the effects that international experiences have had on current students.

The faculty and programs that received 2010-11 funding are:

Harvard Summer School in Trento, Italy: This is the second year that a program will run in collaboration with Harvard Summer School, the University of Trento, and Harvard’s Mind/Brain/Behavior Interfaculty Initiative. Organized by Alfonso Caramazza, the Daniel and Amy Starch Professor of Psychology, the program will have students living and studying alongside Italian students, learning research methods for the study of the mind/brain and other relevant topics, and exploring the culture and history of northern Italy.

“The President’s Innovation Fund for International Experiences provides our program with the financial support needed to work out and put in place at the Italian site a stable infrastructure that will serve the specific needs of our students and faculty abroad and ensure that their experience in Italy is very enjoyable and educational — an experience that they will never forget,” Caramazza said. “Our program is structured to combine an intensive academic curriculum with variegated extracurricular activities and active cultural involvement. This allows for an academically and culturally productive summer, full of adventures and novel experiences.”

Harvard Human Rights Studies Summer Program in Argentina: Located in Buenos Aires, the program expands to Argentina the existing eight-week human rights internship currently offered in Chile. In addition to their internships, students take part in a course focusing on core aspects of human rights.

“The [President’s Innovation Fund] helped launch human rights summer programs abroad by providing support for new curriculum, new linkages with human rights scholars abroad, and synergistic programming with Harvard offices abroad,” said organizer Jacqueline Bhabha, the Jeremiah Smith Jr. Lecturer in Law at Harvard Law School, director of the Harvard University Committee on Human Rights Studies, and director of research at the François-Xavier Bagnoud Center for Health and Human Rights at the Harvard School of Public Health. “Students have loved the opportunity to combine foreign language exposure, situated internships, and human rights coursework. We are extremely grateful for the opportunity to develop these pilot programs.”

Harvard Study Abroad Program in Kenya: In collaboration with Aga Khan University, East Africa, the Kenya program will be offered in the summer of 2012. It will have students enroll alongside local students at Aga Khan University and participate in hands-on fieldwork concerning rural resilience and sustainability. Other aspects include Swahili training and a course on East Africa in the global world.

“We’re really excited about this,” said program organizer Elkins. “The support from the President’s Fund was really huge. It will make the difference in properly planning it and getting it off the ground.”

Harvard Europe Program: Taking place in Freiburg, Germany, the program will be the first to occur during the school year rather than the summer and to be taught by a Harvard faculty member. Beginning in spring 2012, it will be conducted in collaboration with the University of Freiburg, with options for students to take courses in Basel, Switzerland, and Strasbourg, France, and will include courses, language tutorials, internships, and excursions to Istanbul and Warsaw focused on introducing students across all concentrations to the ways in which Europeans address today’s challenges.

Organizer Sven Beckert, the Laird Bell Professor of History, said the seed funding from the Presidents’ Innovation Fund was key to his ability to conduct the site visits needed, consult with European partners, arrange for student housing, and hire an internship coordinator.

“The activity necessary to develop and implement a program of this nature and scope requires several years of commitment and a great deal of combined energy,” Beckert said. “I am grateful to the committee, and to President Faust, for supporting these important activities for faculty, and especially for our students.

“In establishing this award, President Faust took an important step to encourage Harvard faculty to develop international programs for Harvard undergraduate students. Students really do want to study abroad, but they also want to study at Harvard with a Harvard professor  — and there is no better way to do this than to have Harvard faculty design and direct a program in some other part of the world.”

Global Equity Option in Scholarship Abroad Program (GEO Scholars): The GEO Scholars program will put students in active health care delivery sites, managed by the global nonprofit Partners In Health, which has close ties to Harvard. Students will take the course “Societies of the World 25 — Health, Culture and Community: Case Studies in Global Health,” and combine coursework with experiential learning in the field. The program, administered by the Harvard Global Health Institute and organized by Cutler and Farmer, will launch in the spring of 2012.

“We are trying to get students out in the world to be not tourists, but people learning about global health and integrating that with what they’re learning in class,” Cutler said. “This money is critical. Without it, we can’t do anything.”