By: Tatum Hunter ~Opinions & Editorials Editor~
A six-member administrative review team has recommended the revitalization of the Nicaragua Academic Service Learning Semester (ASLS) in the spring of 2015.
The team was headed by Lea Minniti, executive director of the Center for International Education, and Dr. David Mengel, associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. In its 67-page program review, the team completed the first comprehensive evaluation of the Nicaragua ASLS program since 2003.
The review process involved conducting faculty interviews and focus groups; surveying students, faculty and program alumni; analyzing faculty research on service learning and visiting the program site in Managua, Nicaragua.
“The review team was … hugely impressed with the host families and their ownership of the program. They called it ‘our program,’ when we met with them. They said, ‘Thank you for coming to visit and hear about our program, nuestro programa,’” Minniti said.
Dean Janice Walker, Assistant Provost Lori Johnson and Provost Scott Chadwick received the recommendations listed in the team’s final report.
“The current structure, which requires one person to have many, many roles, in the future it’s not going to be sustainable, so we’re looking at a model that’s going to be more sustainable,” Minniti said. “We want to institutionalize the program more.”
The report acknowledged the contributions of former Interim Director and Trip Leader Dr. Irene Hodgson.
“We have been really lucky and truly grateful to have had Irene’s dedication since she’s been involved with the program … for 15 years,” Minniti said.
A new program model will be solidified after the spring 2015 ASLS is evaluated. The new model will either be a Xavier-owned model incorporating new on-campus staff positions or a partnership model in which program participants could take courses through Nicaraguan-based institutions the Center for Global Education or the Universidad Centroamericana (UCA).
The team wishes to allow more students the opportunity to study in Nicaragua, whether by offering more short-term trips or by coordinating a traditional study abroad program at the UCA.
The report also addresses the program’s various budget concerns.
“The students pay Xavier tuition, but the program doesn’t see that tuition,” Minniti said. “Part of my job is to create a new budget, basically assuming that we’ll be able to get some of that tuition, and that once we know the cost per student, we can then market it to non-Xavier students, which would be added revenue.”
Currently, the program requires 12 students minimum to sign up in order to become a reality in 2015. In following years, the minimum would increase to 15.
“There are four or five (Xavier) students now who are interested, so we will recruit from Xavier, and we are looking to expand the recruitment to other schools,” Minniti said.
The team plans to reimagine marketing and recruiting strategies for the program in an effort to increase awareness, attract students from diverse majors, clarify costs and define benefits. This reframing may include choosing a new name for the program in order to “more effectively communicate the character of the program and attract appropriate student participants,” the program review report said.
In the future, the team hopes to “work with partners in Nicaragua to offer a larger menu of courses in English and Spanish,” the report said.
With the new Oct. 1 application deadline, potential participants will have more information about course offerings and more time to decide if the program is right for them.
“The review team believes that there are strong practical and ethical reasons to further develop the existing relationships in Nicaragua before beginning new ASLS programs at new sites; the difficulties inherent in changing an existing program are worth facing,” the report said.