Nurturing Global Thinkers: Appalachian State University's Virtual International Program (VIP) Funding Enters Fourth Year

Nurturing Global Thinkers: Appalachian State University's Virtual International Program (VIP) Funding Enters Fourth Year 

In a time where international connectivity is essential, cultivating international perspectives among students is not just advantageous, but paramount in fostering global citizens. Appalachian State University (AppState), located in a once isolated region of the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, understands this significance all too well.  

The VIP funding program represents an additional aspect to AppState’s traditional study abroad offerings by altering the definition of international education in today’s digital landscape. Through VIP, AppState is opening new avenues for students and faculty to embark on meaningful exchanges of culture and knowledge while overcoming traditional financial and geographical barriers. 

 Embracing Virtual Exchanges

Born in the wake of the unprecedented challenges brought by the COVID-19 pandemic, the VIP program is entering its fourth year of existence and stands as a testament to resilience. Traditional study abroad programs suffered from logistical hurdles and travel restrictions while VIP adapted to the virtual landscape, ensuring a continuity of international education for AppState students.  

Despite the gradual end of the global pandemic and its associated challenges, OIED aims to continue and expand virtual exchange opportunities by embracing the power of technology to unite scholars and students around the world. VIP funds have been used to support over 50 courses in subjects ranging from environmental planning and policy to primate behavior and ecology. 

Equity and Accessibility

One of the most important aspects of VIP is its commitment to equity and accessibility. Recognizing the financial constraints that often hinder students' accessibility to traditional study abroad programs, OIED hopes to level the playing field in order to provide equal access to transformative international experiences for all students.  

“Global engagement is a priority of this institution,” said OIED Executive Director Dr. Chrissie Faupel. “Roughly 25% of our students will travel abroad during their time at AppState. 75% will not. We aim to provide opportunities to all students to engage globally and better understand their discipline from an international or comparative perspective,” she added.

Bringing the World of Tintin to Boone

Dr. Don Presnell, First Year Seminar core faculty member, has long utilized popular fiction in teaching his class by focusing on topics such as the X Files, Peanuts comic strips, Twilight Zone, and Dr. Seuss. This year Dr. Presnell focused his course on the Global Adventures of Tintin. The idea to cover Tintin was not a new one, but the existence of the VIP funding helped develop it into an immersive international exchange.   

As part of his course, Dr. Presnell invited Michael Farr, a globally recognized Tintinologist and the world authority on the Tintin albums, to present a series of virtual guest lectures. This allowed his students to explore and connect with the albums that were produced by a Belgian author and subsequently studied and analyzed by a scholar in the United Kingdom. “I’m engaged and they’re engaged,” said Dr. Presnell of the interaction between himself, his students, and the subject matter expert.

Intercultural Student Dialogue from China to Morocco

Lillian Nave is another VIP awardee who serves as Senior Lecturer in First-Year Seminar and the Universal Design for Learning Coordinator for the Center for Academic Excellence at AppState. She utilized VIP funding to connect her AppState students in one-on-one virtual exchanges with students at Civil Aviation Flight University of China and Mohammed VI Polytechnic University in Morocco. Students were tasked with creating their own meeting schedules, navigating time differences, and holding three conversations throughout the semester discussing particular dimensions related to Geert Hofstede’s 6-D model of national culture. 

These interactions provide an abundance of value to both sets of students and faculty members. Moroccan students who focus on hospitality, hotel tourism, and computer science had the opportunity to practice English with native speakers; meanwhile, Chinese aerospace students in a cultural competency class interacted with AppState students in the international language of aviation (English). The VIP funding also serves to better strengthen relationships between faculty. Ms. Nave worked on a weekly basis with her foreign counterparts to form a partnership that serves the needs of both sets of students, further solidifying the professional networks of these international educators and their respective institutions.

Spanish Learners Explore Indigenous Literature and Environmental Issues in Mexico

Dr. Paul Worley is another AppState faculty member utilizing the VIP funding to provide an experimental virtual exchange program, this time for undergraduate and graduate students studying the Spanish language. Dr. Worley, Professor of Spanish and Chair of the Department of Languages, Literatures, and Cultures, co-taught a course with Dr. Luz Lira from Autonomous University of Querétaro (UAQ) in Mexico that brought students from UAQ’s indigenous communities and AppState graduate students in a non-traditional scholarly environment. Students were paired up for individual conversations to discuss topics including indigenous literature, climate issues, and Hispanic short fiction. The program “gives them the opportunity to dialogue across national borders,” said Dr. Worley.  

The AppState professor pointed out that traditional study abroad students might spend an entire semester studying in Mexico without having these kinds of in-depth conversations. Dr. Worley also emphasized that this program gave students the opportunity to see their professor not as monolithic subject matter authority, but as a scholar who’s “navigating a new space, trying, failing, trying again” in an effort to encourage students to take new risks. To that end, the final class project required students to work collaboratively to produce a podcast in which they interviewed the authors they discussed in class.

Shaping the Future of International Education through VIP

As AppState’s Virtual International Program continues to expand and evolve, OIED seeks faculty members who are eager to help redefine the future of international education. New to the 2024-2025 academic year, OIED will offer two application cycles, one in the Spring of 2024 and one in the Fall of 2024.  Applications for the Spring 2024 cycle open on April 15th and close on May 15th. Faculty members who are integrating a new course with a global virtual component stand to receive up to $1,500 in funding, those integrating a global virtual component into an existing course can receive up to $1,000, while returning VIP faculty are eligible for up to $500 in funding.  

When asked what the desired outcomes are for faculty members applying for VIP funding in the upcoming 2025 academic year, Chrissie Faupel, Executive Director of OIED, remarked “We would love for them to strengthen their global networks and to see if this work could lead to more types of collaborations: co-research, publication, further virtual and in-person exchanges.”  

More information about the Virtual International Program can be found on OIED’s website.  Applicants are encouraged to apply by the May 15th deadline for programs taking place during Summer II and Fall 2025 academic terms. Questions about the VIP program can be directed to OIED and Dr. Faupel. 

Published: Apr 15, 2024 4:49pm