NSights Blog

Internationalizing the University's best and brightest

Honors Program gives students a competitive advantage by stressing international study, experiences

Study after study shows graduate schools, competitive fellowships, and employers value international experience from their applicants. That has certainly been true in my own career as professor and administrator, particularly here in the Honors Program where global citizenship is woven into staff DNA.

A statistic we are very proud of is that Honors Program students lead the way in international study and research, regardless of major: 18 to 25 percent of each cohort have spent at least one summer term abroad, most often with USAC programs, but on others as well. Our students have also conducted archaeological digs in Ireland, performed service learning in India, provided medical services in Peru, researched at labs in Belgium, and started public-school theatre programs in Mexico. These opportunities create very competitive graduate school applicants, researchers, and professionals, not to mention enthusiastic global citizens. Ninety-five percent report they would absolutely go abroad again, while 80 percent list their international experience as valuable in landing their first job or research placement after college.

On my first study abroad to Germany, back when it was still a divided country, letters took a week to get home. Today, Honors students can use blogs to communicate, quickly reaching family and friends as well as a wider audience. Once back in Reno, students can enroll in HON 410, an Area Studies course I teach designed to reflect deeply on time spent abroad and to integrate global studies into research and career preparation. Course requirements also include organizing annual Honors Students Discover the World events. These presentations, to which the entire University community is invited, typically include food, music, and other artifacts from the countries in which students studied.

One of my favorite assignments is to coordinate the Honors Program contributions to International Education Week each November. This past year, Honors students organized panel discussions on study abroad, Knowledge Center photo exhibitions, and six Honors Students Discover the World presentations. We also supported an Honors student initiative to bring the "Justice Rising" organization to campus to highlight how students here can combat human trafficking worldwide. All these activities help internationalize the campus and show how study abroad can benefit any major. International fellowship recruitment is also part of our job, since the Honors Program also houses the Office of Undergraduate Scholarships. Together with other Honors staff, I have mentored many students for prestigious international awards such as the Fulbright, DAAD, Marshall, Mitchell, and Rhodes. Indeed, as I write this, we are preparing to say farewell to two new University Fulbright award recipients who will spend a year in Luxembourg and Niger, respectively, starting in August. To attract the most qualified applicants across campus, we also host several information sessions on fellowship opportunities each semester.

It is no exaggeration to say that being in the Honors office is sometimes like being at the United Nations. My colleagues and I have the pleasure of advising and mentoring 53 Honors students who are foreign nationals or who hold dual citizenship from countries all over the world: Japan to Ethiopia, Switzerland to the Philippines, Australia to Panama. Honors also sponsors a Congress-Bundestag exchange student each year from Germany, who lives with a local family, enrolls in University courses, and completes an internship. All of us in the Honors office draw on our prior international teaching, research, and study experiences when advising students. We can also provide information in four languages besides English: French, German, Hindi, and Spanish!

In order to best equip our graduates for a global future, Honors emphasizes international engagement starting with the first-year seminar all Honors students take. So whether you are a student, faculty or staff, or from the community at large, stop by our office in Jot Travis to meet our study abroad alumni, to view student photo exhibitions, and peruse our students' entertaining and informative travel journals. You can also speak with Honors staff to see how our globally-literate students can benefit your company or graduate program, and practice a foreign language or two while you're at it!

Daniel Villanueva is the Assistant Director of the University's Honors Program. He joined the Honors Program in 2012 and serves on the University's International Activities Committee.

Daniel Villanueva