Innovation Awards 2017: Winners & Finalists

Innovation in Alumni Engagement

Purdue Study Abroad: When the (Study Abroad) Student Become the Teachers: Global Leadership Mentors

“The lasting takeaways of short-term program participants can sometimes be uninspiring. Once their “trip” is over, it’s on to the next thing. To combat this, Purdue Study Abroad developed a program that extends learning opportunities; stretching a two-week experience into a semester-long, on-campus course & Action Project. Time has thus been built in for more in-depth reflection, and students are allowed to put what they’ve learned into practice. Their alumni were key to this innovation.

By taking part in the Global Leadership program, incoming Purdue freshmen earn three 400-level credits. They spend only two weeks abroad, but complete coursework from late-June – November. These students have long been tasked with developing their own community-based projects. For the first time last fall, program alumni helped direct these projects, acting as course Teaching Assistants.

The program teaches freshman they can lead. This innovative addition gives alumni the chance to do it! It takes the experiential learning model, common in study abroad, to a new level. Studies show that knowledge retention rates are highest when the “teaching others” method is utilized. Their alumni further developed their leadership training and experience by guiding intercultural learning exercises, directing class discussions, providing feedback on projects, and assessing oral presentations.

A measly $50 stipend was offered for this extensive commitment, yet 47 alumni showed interest. Four were selected based on their ability to act as mentors and effectively connect students to community resources. This innovation has tapped into the enthusiasm of returnees, created reentry programming, enhanced study abroad ambassadors, and truly engaged alumni for post-program personal development. I see the potential of this pilot program being duplicated across their campus, and beyond.

Innovation in Diversity

District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS): DCPS Study Abroad

In 2016, the District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) launched an innovative global education program, offering fully-funded summer travel to 8th and 11th grade students through DCPS Study Abroad. By summer 2017, DCPS Study Abroad will send over 800 students and over 100 educators on free global trips; nearly 600 students will receive their first passport. The initiative is unique not only in its scale and funding, but also in the tremendous focus on enhancing equity by targeting all students to study abroad regardless of socioeconomic status, gender, or ethnic background. In a district where 76% of students receive free and reduced meals, and over 82% of students are people of color, the initiative has the capacity the change the narrative about who has access to global experiences.

Innovation in Marketing & Digital Media

Study Abroad Office at Arizona State University: Faculty-Led Marketing Toolkit

Across college campuses, professors leading study abroad programs are one of the biggest assets to drive student participation. These faculty have lived and breathed the experience, and can speak to the academic, personal, and professional advantages to a captive audience. Unlike administrators that see students traditionally on a one-off basis, faculty have built-in face-to-face interaction to build relationships with students that can ultimately influence their academic choices (like study abroad) significantly.

As the number of short-term, faculty-led programs grow across the field, study abroad professionals need to harness this powerful resource to encourage more participation. To support this population that is largely focused on teaching, research, and scholarship (and may or may not have experience with marketing and promotion), the Study Abroad Office at Arizona State University created a Faculty-Led Marketing Toolkit to empower faculty-directors to expand their student reach.

This comprehensive website includes resources on the research-rich benefits of study abroad (including academic, professional, and personal benefits), advantages of faculty-led programs, strategies on identifying the program’s target market, a synopsis of Generation Z, marketing timelines by program, marketing strategies (face-to-face, digital, social media, print), customizable templates, and answers on frequently asked questions from students. Faculty can turn to this resource and follow this foundation to maximize their limited time promoting their program.

This website can serve as an example for other institutions (and replicate pieces or its entirety) to meet their individual campus’ needs for short-term faculty-led programming promotional needs.

Innovative New Program – Internship

Global Experiences & Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT): Accelerated Internship Abroad Experience

“International internships are a perfect combination of professional experience and global education, but for many college students an 8+ week experience is not possible. In 2016, Global Experiences was challenged by Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) to create an accelerated internship experience in their January term that would inspire STEM majors to go abroad while meeting the co-op credit requirement to graduate.

Replicating and accelerating learning seen in longer programs required a new approach, creating an intentional cycle of learning-experience-reflection. Dublin was selected as an ideal host city for its culturally accessibility and unique focus on entrepreneurship that appealed to a range of majors. The design process resulted in a high-intensity experience combining three elements: Strengths-based Career Development, Entrepreneurship Training, and Cultural Immersion. GE worked closely with the head of Co-op Education at RIT, and an Entrepreneurship education expert in Dublin, to ensure goals were achieved.

Officially announced in summer 2016, the program attracted diverse interest from RIT students new to travel abroad. Prior to departure the group completed the Gallup Strengths assessment and discussed their individual profiles. On-site, students were challenged to use their Strengths as individuals and future entrepreneurs. Students spent time between interactive sessions with an entrepreneurship trainer, targeted cultural experiences, and sessions with businesses and entrepreneurs. Learning centered around 3 topics: Doing Business in Ireland, Innovation in Action, and Issues in Building a Business.

Outcomes for students were significant and each participant’s gains were unique. All reported learning new skills, gaining confidence and building global competencies, while many were inspired to travel, and some have already received job offers based on their new entrepreneurship skills. Information Systems majors gained firsthand exposure to new ways businesses organize their information. A Business Management student learned the steps toward starting their own business, while IT and Engineering majors witnessed an innovative production line at work.

The initial year’s success has challenged traditional conceptions of what an international internship looks like and provides a path to new design models that encourage greater participation. “

Innovative New Program – Study Abroad

Queens University of Charlotte: Queens at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games

“Between January and August 2016, Queens University of Charlotte managed a faculty-led study abroad program to train 19 students to join the elite ranks of journalists, producers, and photographers covering the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.

In a 16-week, spring-semester course, the students examined Brazilian culture, the Olympic movement, and broadcasting operations. They also polished skills in videography, reporting, and editing. In June and July, they collaborated online with six Brazilian journalism students from Mackenzie Presbyterian University in São Paulo. These six joined the program in Rio de Janeiro, serving as field producers and Portuguese-speaking translators. The bridge between Queens and Mackenzie was developed by a São Paulo-based provider, Campus Brasil, which managed local logistics.

Within 24 hours of arrival in Rio on Aug. 6, student teams were creating coverage for their own website,, which is still live. They produced 26 multimedia packages over a 2-week period. In a partnership created for the program, all 26 were published on NBC Charlotte’s website. Nine appeared on the national NBC Olympics website, and three on USA Today.

Because other journalists focused on competitions, these students examined the impact of the games on Rio residents. Stories included a profile of an 8-year-old samba-dancer in the opening ceremony, favela communities, taxi drivers, and other topics.

Story assignments forced students to understand and explain Rio culture for a broader audience. Collaboration with Brazilian students provided experience working in multilingual teams. Living and working together in a hostel — taken over as program headquarters – forced students to solve problems, overcome the disappointment of ideas that didn’t work out, and take pride in making high-quality narrative contributions to a global event. The experience gave students confidence after succeeding in a competitive environment, transformed them into culturally aware producers, and created visibility for foreign study programs.”

Innovative New Program – Volunteer

African Impact – The Build-It Project

“In Zambia, most people survive on only one US dollar a day and suffer from extremely poor infrastructure. For the past 10 years, African Impact has been working to find sustainable solutions to these problems, and in 2016, launched the Build-It Project.

Build-It support communities by providing safe and sound structures built with ecological and self-sustaining materials. As part of this, African Impact use an innovative method known as Eco-bricking; stuffing plastic bottles with non-biological waste to create a reusable building block. A proven way of reducing litter, as well as a cost-effective method for building structures. Not only has this initiative educated the community on the importance of waste management and environmental awareness, African Impact’s Eco-bricks, as well as their traditional building methods, have been used to improve the lives of disadvantaged communities in an area known as Linda Farm. Linda Farm was set up to empower and rehabilitate those living with disabilities, and currently has over 100 residents.

To date, the project has provided Linda Farm with two ablution blocks so that residents can have access to clean sanitation, and a chicken coop, compost bin and piggery! This has provided the community with self-sustainable income generating activities. The project also supports many other community organizations, and has provided several overflow classroom blocks for local overcrowded schools. This creates much needed space for the students and teachers. I addition, several Eco-education workshops have been run, which has engaged young people so much that they even brought in their own Eco-bricks!

In the very near future, the project aims to build a community center to run workshops, skills-training sessions, and literacy program. The Build-It project is a clear representation of how working together in innovative ways can lead to the betterment of the environment and the empowerment of a community.”

Innovation in Philanthropy

Maya Universe Academy: Education & Livelihood Projects for Earthquake Victims

“Maya Universe Academy (MUA) is a small chain of free private schools providing access to quality education to rural and poor communities. The parents of students volunteer two days per month in agriculture, animal husbandry and handicrafts as opposed to paying tuition fees.

One year after the devastating earthquake that hit Nepal in 2015, MUA opened its doors to 25 students from epicenter-hit villages in Gorkha District. The students are given full scholarship and boarding thanks to some local and international sponsors.

When they arrived at MUA (selected by the district office according to a set criteria) the young earthquake victims were not going to school, could only speak their local language (Gurung), and some showed a number of behavioral issues. Thanks to the dedicated team of local and foreign volunteers, the children have adapted to a loving and diverse setting with other children from around Nepal, integrated into MUA’s school system, display better conduct of behaviour and respect to each other.

Through funding from SOS Malta (NGO based in Malta) they have installed chicken coups in 10 nearby family homes who will be raising chickens for MUA’s social business Maya’s Country Chicken. The aim of the project in its totality is to provide consistent funding support for the maintenance and growth of MUA to become self-sustainable. The profits earned from the family chicken coops will assist in covering expenses of the hostel for the earthquake victim children. Simultaneously, families participating in the project will generate an income. “

Innovation in Sustainability

Dar Si Hmad for Development, Education, and Culture: Ethnographic Field School

“Dar Si Hmad’s premier project uses cutting-edge technology to harvest potable water from fog on the edge of the Sahara Desert, which is then piped to rural Amazigh communities previously without access to a reliable water source. Shortly after its founding in 2010, Dar Si Hmad created an Ethnographic Field School, hosting unique study abroad programs and independent student research. The goal of the Field School is to support critical research and international study in this comparatively underrepresented region of Morocco and to encourage equitable exchange with direct benefits to local host communities.

Building and running the largest operational fog harvesting project in the world, recognized by the United Nations as a leader in climate change adaptation, means that Dar Si Hmad is in a unique position to provide insight on water technologies, field engineering, and the benefits and challenges of local development. With a small team of 10-15 staff committed to participatory methods and empowering beneficiary communities, Dar Si Hmad’s Field School offers qualitative, challenging, and hands-on study abroad experiences that bring out the best in both visiting students and host communities. In 2015 and 2016, the organization hosted roughly 150 students from more than 30 universities.

Programs activities often include visits to the fog project site, meetings with local beneficiaries, and tours of traditional desert irrigation systems paired with critical development theory and dynamic discussions with Moroccan young people about what sustainability means in different contexts. These programs challenge students to think critically about where technological innovation comes from, how access to water impacts daily livelihoods, and what “doing development” looks like on the ground. They also facilitate meaningful cross-cultural friendships and partnerships and encourage students to get involved in their own communities with action-oriented reflections.”

Innovation in Technology

IES Abroad: Virtual Tours With VR Readers

“We’re all familiar with the multitude of questions students have before studying abroad—and it makes total sense! It’s hard to picture what your daily routine in Cape Town might look like, or your classrooms in Vienna, or your neighborhood in Buenos Aires, and we’ve found that these uncertainties create apprehension in students who aren’t familiar with study abroad. With their 10 Virtual Reality experiences, featuring 360 degree video, panoramas, photos, and guided narration along the way, we’re expanding how prospective students visualize study abroad and making it convenient for them to find answers to their own questions. Their Virtual Reality tours are as close as you can get to studying abroad (without actually hopping on a plane!) and they pride themselves in being able to share such a detailed, realistic, and engaging portrait of study abroad with their audiences, and for being the first study abroad provider to do so.

Additionally, the increased affordability of virtual reality headsets has allowed us to provide an even more immersive tour experience to more people. Instead of navigating a tour from a phone or computer, VR headsets encourage users to literally step inside their programs, and walk through the classrooms, housing, and landmarks, as if they were there themselves! During the 2016 IIE Summit, they brought their VR readers to the Tech Hub so visitors could give their programs a test drive.

They have also begun training their recruiters to use the headsets during their school visits, and will continue to send headsets to study abroad offices so they can further share the power of VR. they believe their Virtual Tours are a huge step in educating prospective students about study abroad, and do so in an accessible, unique, and highly memorable way that has not yet been rivaled in their field.”

The STA Travel Start the Adventure Award

LaSharon McLean Perez, Off the Beaten Path Scholarship, University of California Riverside

LaSharon has dedicated her life to the study abroad office at UCR. Through my personal experience I have never seen anyone as dedicated to her job, students, and values as LaSharon. From one student: “I have had the blessing of having LaSharon as my study abroad advisor for three different programs I have applied for. One of the programs was in Russia, an out of ordinary country compared to others in which students usually study abroad to. As a first generation international student from Mexico, the costs for studying abroad were the main reason keeping me from participating in abroad programs. But with her help, I was able to afford the experience.”

LaSharon does everything in her power to send students abroad for the lowest possible cost. For example, she created the Off the Beaten Path Scholarship initiative, in an effort to send students to nontraditional countries, such as Ghana, Samoa, and Nepal, with scholarships and reduced program costs. She was able to do this through her work with third party study abroad organizations. She has also led UCR’s Worldfest Study Abroad Fair since 2007. LaSharon does not only help students go abroad and accomplish their dreams but she keeps them in her mind to be able to help them further incorporate their studies abroad onto their resumes and career opportunities. Students trust LaSharon and know that studying abroad is possible because of her dedication and passion for destroying boundaries. Similarly to the way that LaSharon took it upon herself to help students to study to non-traditional countries through the development of the Off the Beaten Path Scholarship, she works every day to keep encouraging students to study abroad.

Ms. Perez is a truly unique individual who truly cares about students developing an international perspective by advocating for them to study abroad. From one student: “As a person of color, I never knew the power of developing an international perspective, by drawing on her own experiences she was able to help me envision a world outside my campus. She also really to stood in the gap for me when I couldn’t afford my trip and help me reach out extremely beneficial resources that made my trip possible.” Most of all, Ms. Perez possesses an infectious positivity and passion for her work that is really inspiring and captivating.

Student Video

Ethan Beseris, CEA Global Education: “University of Utah Promo Reel

People’s Choice


CISabroad offers affordable, fully supported study and intern programs in six continents, 26 countries, and 80+ locations. CISabroad aims to provide innovative education programs that broaden academic perspectives, promote global awareness, and encourage personal development while laying the foundation for program participants to become engaged global citizens.

The mission of CISabroad is to foster the development of more engaged world citizens, by providing educational programs that are innovative, promote global awareness, encourage personal growth, and broaden students’ academic perspectives.

Congratulations to all of the 2017 Finalists!

Innovation in Alumni Engagement

Innovation in Diversity

Innovation in Marketing & Digital Media

Innovative New Program – Internship

Innovative New Program – Study Abroad

Innovative New Program – Volunteer

Innovation in Philanthropy

Innovation in Sustainability

Innovation in Technology

The STA Travel Start the Adventure Award

  • LaSharon McLean Perez, University of California Riverside
  • Abby Falik, Global Citizen Year
  • Margaret McCullers, IFSA Butler
  • Ethan Knight, American Gap Association
  • Teresita Levy, Lehman College

Student Video

People’s Choice