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MU freshmen are #passportready with scholarships from Operation Passport

Filed in News and announcements by on November 2, 2015

by Bailey Boyd

As a result of the generosity of outside sponsors, eight MU freshmen walked out of Memorial Union on Oct. 15 with more than a combined $6,000 in study abroad scholarships and travel vouchers. These students were part of the 882 first-time college students that presented a valid U.S. passport to the MU International Center and received a $135 Passport Scholarship for study abroad as part of the center’s new initiative, Operation Passport. Those students were also invited to attend the Oct. 15 reception, where they had the chance to win additional scholarships and ask questions about studying abroad.

The Oct. 15 event was designed to encourage students to continue early planning for their study abroad experience to ensure that each of them takes advantage of the myriad of study abroad options MU has to offer. Contributions from Operation Passport’s sponsors helped motivate students to attend this reception by providing travel vouchers and study abroad scholarships. Dr. Jim Spain, vice provost for undergraduate studies and keynote speaker at the reception, also surprised the crowd by drawing an additional name from the raffle entries and announcing his own contribution to Operation Passport: an additional scholarship to be underwritten by the Office of Undergraduate Studies.

In his address, Spain urged MU’s freshmen to “show up” for the opportunities presented to them and stressed the importance of studying abroad. “We are becoming more and more citizens of the world and less citizens of one country,” he said.

Students were invited to pick up information about the various study abroad programs available and to ask questions of the representatives from the International Center and other MU study abroad offices. Study abroad advisers were also stationed at topic tables that focused on concerns these students submitted through a survey earlier this fall.

Becky Triatik, study abroad coordinator, answered questions regarding academics and staying on track for graduation during the event. She said that one of the biggest fears students have is that their academic schedule won’t allow for a study abroad experience. That fear, Triatik said, is a misconception.

“We’ve had triple majors who have studied abroad that have actually graduated early,” she said.

The most frequent question she is asked by students is “Which year should I go?” and this is why events like the reception are so important.

“These students are all freshmen,” Triatik said, signaling to the approximately 150 students in attendance. “They can start planning early.”

Operation Passport: The campaign

Operation Passport was proposed by Jim Scott, director of the International Center and interim vice provost for international programs, as an initiative to encourage early planning for study abroad.

The thought is that having a passport in hand from the time they start college will encourage students to use it, said Barbara Lindeman, director of study abroad and assistant director of the International Center. And while the university has been discussing passport scholarships for years, Lindeman said it was only through the generosity of a donor this year that the project was finally made possible.

In addition to endowing the Smith Family Scholarship, donor Ed Smith developed, funded and distributed a direct mailing to each first-time college student enrolled at MU for fall 2015. The mailing included a letter from MU’s chancellor, R. Bowen Loftin, that encouraged students to obtain their passports as the first step to study abroad, along with a special invitation to present a valid passport at the International Center before Sept. 30, 2015, to receive a $135 Passport Scholarship. When students presented their passports, the International Center applied the Passport Scholarship to the students’ accounts for use toward any MU-approved study abroad program. This cohort of students will also help the center to better understand what factors may encourage or hinder students in ultimately participating on a study abroad program.

The Oct. 15 reception was the first in a series of events this year specifically designed for these #passportready students. Each event will feature a keynote speaker, raffle prizes and information about the possibilities and advantages of study abroad.

It’s all part of the plan

Operation Passport was created in response to the University of Missouri System’s strategic planning initiative, which outlines specific objectives for each of the four campuses in the system. One of those targeted at the MU campus is the expansion of “interdisciplinary, global and hands-on learning opportunities and participation by students,” according to the UM System Strategic Planning Initiatives 2013–2018. This translated into a more quantitative ambition: to see 30 percent of MU undergraduate students study abroad during their academic career.

Operation Passport is a step toward that goal, providing nearly 15 percent of MU’s fall 2015 incoming freshmen with a Passport Scholarship toward a study abroad program.

Getting #passportready is a #studyabroadsuccess

The campaign is already incredibly successful according to Lindeman, who started seeing results of the campaign as early as this year’s Summer Welcome.

“Students were coming up to our table with a purpose,” she said, after the students had received information about study abroad and the Passport Scholarship in the mail in May.

The International Center is looking forward to continuing to work with the MU class of 2019 to learn how to better engage students early to encourage them to study abroad at least once during their academic careers.

Some students, like Leah Treffeison, have already turned the vague inclination to study abroad into a non-negotiable reality because of Operation Passport.

“I was thinking about [studying abroad] before, but I saw Operation Passport and decided to do it, and now I’m definitely going,” Treffeison said after her name was drawn for one of the study abroad scholarships raffled off at the Oct. 15 reception. And though she’s only halfway into her first semester at MU, she’s already begun to consider her options.

“I don’t know if I’ll do a summer trip or a fall semester. As long as I can,” she said.

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