UMF joins scholars from around the world to enhance undergraduate students’ global experiences

Also featured in the Sun Journal/Franklin Journal, Daily Bulldog, and Bangor Daily News.

A large group of people gathered in classroom.
Professors Stefania Franchini (left) and Cecila Franchini (right) from Italian Music Conservatories in Pescara and Venice presenting on their Virtual Global Experience with Professor Steve Pane of the UMF Music program. Photo Credit: UMF Image

FARMINGTON, ME  (April 9, 2024)—Having an international experience is a valuable tool in a student’s career readiness—and with the University of Maine at Farmington Virtual Global Experience program, students can travel globally without leaving home.

UMF recently hosted an international conference of scholars with more than 30 participants hailing from nine countries and five continents, including Africa, Asia, Europe, South America and North America. The scholars, associated with UMF’s Collaborative Online International Learning (COIL) initiative, gathered to discuss their participation in UMF’s Virtual Global Experiences program, designed to enhance undergraduate students’ global experiences and competencies across all disciplines.

“The purpose of UMF’s Global Classrooms initiative is to expand the number of UMF students to have access to a global experience during their undergraduate career at UMF,” according to Dr. Linda Beck, the Associate Dean of Experiential & Global Education and principal investigator for the grant.

“With approximately 50% of our student body receiving Pell Grants, many of them are unable or cannot even imagine studying abroad. The Virtual Global Experience program ensures that all UMF students have the opportunity for sustained interactions and friendships, even with students in other countries. Based on these experiences, many of these students decide to participate in our travel courses, study abroad or take other international studies courses while at UMF,” said Beck.

Two presenters in the front of a classroom.
Professor Nicole Kellett, UMF Anthropology, presenting with her Virtual Global Experiences collaborator, Professor Jefrey Gamarra Carrillo from the Universidad Nacional de San Cristóbal de Huamanga in Peru. Photo Credit: UMF Image

In 2020, just as the COVID-19 pandemic began to shut down opportunities for study abroad, UMF received an Undergraduate International Studies & Foreign Language grant from the United States Department of Education. Under its Global Classrooms project, UMF began training faculty and staff to develop COIL modules that could be incorporated into existing courses, permitting faculty and students to collaborate with counterparts worldwide.

In Spring 2021, Professor Matt McCourt offered his geography students a virtual experience with students in Le Mans, France, while Professor Nicole Kellett had her anthropology students work on a comparative analysis of the impact of COVID-19 on our daily lives with students in Peru. A third VGE pilot was conducted by Professor Carole Lee, whose students created science lesson plans with students at the Education University of Hong Kong.

Since this initial pilot, UMF professors and students have conducted VGE modules in 17 courses within nine different disciplines alongside 12 international partners in Cyprus, France, Hong Kong, Italy, Japan, Peru, Senegal, Spain, and the United Kingdom, as well as a Tribal College in Montana.

This semester, UMF has begun a new program combining virtual modules with student mobility. Professor Steve Pane of the UMF Music program has collaborated with colleagues from two music conservatories in Pescara and Venice, Italy. The three professors had their first VGE exchange in Fall 2022, and this spring culminated their virtual exchange with seven conservancy students who performed collaboratively with UMF students on March 22. Professors Cecilia Franchini and Stefania Franchini, who have been at residence at UMF as Libra scholars, opened the VGE conference with a faculty performance on March 28.

Another group of UMF students is participating in a global seminar that includes a VGE with Le Mans students and will culminate with fieldwork in France. A group of Le Mans students will then travel to Maine. UMF plans to hold similar global seminars that combine virtual exchanges with actual student travel to China and Senegal next academic year. 

Last week’s conference included 10 presentations by 19 faculty members, all but three of whom could travel to UMF for the event. The others joined via Zoom in the true spirit of virtual exchanges. In addition, Professor Erin Fernandez Mommer of Greenville River College in Washington State gave a keynote address on the COIL Network set up in the Pacific Northwest that can serve as a model for expanding virtual exchanges to include other universities and community colleges in Maine.

Three men holding a small sign.
UMF President Joseph McDonnell (center) with Dr. Abdoulaye Ndiaye (left) from the Université de Cheikh Anta Diop in Dakar, Senegal, and Dr. Jefrey Gamarra Carrillo (right) from the Universidad Nacional de San Cristóbal de Huamanga in Peru. Both professors have offered Virtual Global Experiences opportunities for UMF students to collaborate virtually with their students. Photo Credit: UMF Image

In their presentations, professors shared the type of projects their students worked on collaboratively with their international classmates, the challenges they had to overcome and the impact these experiences had on their students.

One UMF student who participated in the exchange with UMF’s partner in Alicante, Spain, noted, “I feel more confident in interacting with people from a different culture. I have not had much opportunity to talk to people outside of Maine, so I was nervous. But now I am far less nervous and interested in seeking out more opportunities.”

Another UMF student who went on to do her student teaching at UMF’s partner in Daegu, South Korea, observed that having their peers in Hong Kong share their experience with teaching methods, “helped me truly understand what it will be like when I begin teaching in South Korea. It even made me realize that I have to adjust my own ideas of how I can embrace their cultural learning norms while still incorporating aspects of U.S. teaching.”

As a recipient of a second UISFL grant from the U.S. Department of Education in 2023, UMF will be able to continue to grow its Global Classrooms program with increased emphasis on students in natural science and education majors who are less likely to fit study abroad into their curriculum.

Professor Nicole Kellett and Dr. Abdoulaye Ndyaye presenting their VGE with focus on Environmental Justice.
Dr. Linda Beck elaborates on UMF’s relationship and impact from UNICollaboration.