SRU faculty-led programs taking more than 350 students abroad for spring break



Amsterdam, Netherlands, home to the leading research in the field of epigenetics, is the destination for one of the 14 faculty-led programs offered to Slippery Rock University students during spring break.

March 4, 2019

SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. - International travel often provides a transformative experience that enhances students' learning beyond the classroom. The more than 350 Slippery Rock University students traveling to 10 countries during spring break hope to have such an experience.

Most of the trips are related to subjects covered in a particular class or academic program and feature anywhere from 10-30 students. The lone exception this year is the SRU Marching Pride whose 118 members are traveling to Ireland to perform in the St. Patrick's Day Festival parade in Dublin.

There are 14 programs, offered in conjunction with SRU's Office for Global Engagement, led by 18 professors and staff who recognize the importance of international travel, often because they had a transformative experience as a student. Jennifer Willford, associate professor of psychology, who presented at a conference in Denmark when she was a graduate student at the University of Kentucky, is just one example.

"I had never been out of the country prior to that and it changed the way I thought about the world, about myself and the way that I thought about my profession and what I studied," said Willford, who went on to travel all over the world during her career, including a one-semester teaching stint in Singapore. "Having a world perspective changes everything for someone. I value that experience and want to share it with other students. It had such a major impact on me when I had that experience for the first time and I've never forgotten it. It changed me as a person."

Willford is taking 20 students, some of whom have never been out of the country or even on an airplane, to Amsterdam, Netherlands, March 8-15, to research topics related to their Health Psychology class.

"(Because some of them are traveling abroad for the first time) I work hard to make sure that this is a positive experience where they are going to grow with their academics but also personally to gain some independence, confidence and curiosity about the world around them," Willford said.

Willford chose Amsterdam because it is home to some of the leading research in the field of epigenetics, which is the study of how organisms change by modification of gene expression rather than altering the genetic code. Since epigenetics relates to Willford's class, the focus of the trip will be on human health and how food scarcity impacts behavior and mental health. The students will meet with faculty from Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam and learn more about the effects of the Dutch Hunger Winter and the Netherlands Twin Register. Epigenetics research in the Netherlands centers on the genetic effects of people born months after the famine in the winter of 1944-45, while a current longitudinal survey of twin siblings dating back to 1987 looks at how twins' traits diverge despite them having the same DNA.

"There was a cluster of opportunity in Amsterdam that would allow me to teach students from both historical and current contexts," said Willford, who will also take the students to museums and historical exhibits in Amsterdam like the Anne Frank House and Jewish Quarter. "I'm excited. This is a new program and, although it's just a week, it so action-packed. We have a lot planned."

Other faculty-led trips include:

• Douglas Strahler and Nicholas Artman, assistant professors of communication, are taking 19 students from their Social Media and Photojournalism courses to London, England, March 7-15, to explore the city's communication technology and digital storytelling landscape, and to visit with communication professionals.
• Christine Pease-Hernandez, assistant professor of communication, is taking 11 students to Lisbon and Porto, Portugal, March 7-16, to develop a mutual mentoring relationship with their fellow students as they learn about Portuguese culture and experience locations such as La Plaza de Comerico, Discovery Monument and St. George's Castle.
• Tamra Schiappa, professor of geography, geology and environment, is taking nine students to San Salvador, Bahamas, March 8-15, to experience the city's unique and diverse tropical environments. They will snorkel around patch reefs, study mangroves and learn how human-induced climate change affects the country's fragile and diverse environment.
• Noora Alie, assistant director of international student services, and Tess Thrower, assistant director of global exchanges and partnerships, Office of Global Engagement, are taking 25 students to London, Canterbury and Kingston upon Thames, United Kingdom, where they will visit SRU partner institutions Canterbury Christ Church University and Kingston University and learn about the education system abroad.
• John Golden, assistant professor of business, is taking 20 students to Athens and Crete, Greece, March 7-16, for a program affiliated with his Economics of Sustainable Development class that will study the country's sustainable agriculture and food.
• Susan Kushner and Nancy Shipe, associate professors of physical therapy, are taking 22 students to Dublin and Limerick, Ireland, March 7-14, to visit Dublin City University and the National Rehabilitation Hospital of Ireland.
• David Jordan, professor of business, and Rajeeb Poudel, associate professor of business, are taking 27 students to four cities in Italy - Rome, Florence, Venice and Sienna - March 7-16, to experience the culture and familiarize students with operational and financial aspects of health care institutions abroad.
• Michelle Amodei, assistant professor of elementary education and early childhood, is taking 17 students to Florence and Rome, Italy, March 7-15, to visit an international school and the Loris Malaguzzi International Centre in Reggio Emilia, a dedicated meeting place that combines professional development and research for education innovators.
• Allison Peiritsch, assistant professor of communication, is taking 13 students to Stockholm, Sweden, March 7-15, for a program affiliated with her Case Studies in Public Relations and Integrated Marketing Communication classes. Sweden is considered a hub of multinational companies known for their advanced public relations and marketing practices. The students will visit a communication agency, a business incubator, public affairs firm and an organization that addresses food insecurity and policy.
• Bruce Boliver, assistant professor of hospitality, event management and tourism; and Bruce Orvis, associate professor of business, are taking 30 students to Florence and Milan, Italy, where students will learn about the country's retail and hospitality industries.
• Thomas Como, professor of art, is taking 12 students to Paris, France, March 7-16, to experience the arts and culture of the city, which will include visits to the Palace of Versailles and Louvre Museum.
• Linda Zane, associate professor of elementary education and early childhood, is taking 18 students to Kristianstad and Stockholm, Sweden, March 7-16, to explore Sweden's high-quality, child-centered education system and attend lectures and seminars at Swedish universities.
• Jonathan Helmick, associate professor and director of bands, is leading 118 students from the Marching Pride band to Ireland, March 14-21. Click here to learn more about the band's preparation and performance schedule.

To learn more about SRU's study abroad opportunities, click here.

MEDIA CONTACT: Justin Zackal | 724.738.4854 |