Windward Community College Footholds Abroad Initiative

Janira Romero

Providing Access and Opportunity to Students Underrepresented in Study Abroad

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Study abroad opportunities aren’t always accessible to students.
Such was the case for many students at Windward Community College (WCC), located on the eastern side of Oahu Island in Hawaii. WCC is an Asian American Native American/Pacific Islander Serving Institution (AANAPISI) and Alaska Native/Native Hawaiian Serving Institution (ANNH), with over 75% of students identifying as one of these ethnic groups.
The 15 miles proximity to luxurious resorts of Waikiki and Honolulu contrast the reality for most WCC students: many come from economically disadvantaged backgrounds. With responsibilities stacked high and economic resources low, most WCC students had not pursued international experiences, especially in studying abroad. 
Aware of the unique community college structure that hinders students from pursuing global experiences, WCC sought out opportunities to support piloting an innovative study abroad program that meets most of the needs of its students. The community college discovered the Capacity Building Grant (CBG) for U.S. Undergraduate Study Abroad program, administered by Partners of the Americas.
WCC submitted its proposal and in June 2016 was awarded approximately $50,000 to design an affordable study abroad program specific to its students. CBG funds supported the program, known as Footholds Abroad Initiative (FAI), as well as the establishment of the Study Abroad Center. These initiatives are ground-breaking steps for internationalizing WCC.
Spring of 2017 marked the launch of FAI, with two faculty-led, week-long study abroad trips. In the first trip, nine students traveled to the University of Essex in the United Kingdom to study theatre, and in the second trip, 21 traveled to Te Whare Wananga o Awanuiarangi in New Zealand to study the Maori indigenous culture. Of the 30 total program participants, over 65% were of Native Hawaiian ancestry and 90% were students of color. This outcome is impressive as it exceeds enrollment parity, as well as in comparison to national trends.
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WCC obtained over $40,000 in donor-sponsored, in-kind, and institutional funds to directly support the participation of students and staff in study abroad and offset the costs of travel. The University of Hawaii system, recognizing the potential of the FAI, created a new “Spring Break Study Abroad” Scholarship specifically for WCC. The program gained additional financial support from the Windward Community College Ambassadors and the Stern Memorial Trust.
Students who participated in FAI the first year cite the experience as life-changing. Since participating in the faculty-led trips, some students have pursued longer study abroad terms and others have transferred to four-year institutions to continue their studies. WCC intends to expand the study abroad program to make it available to students across the state of Hawaii.​
The FAI and Study Abroad Center have successfully begun to change the culture on WCC’s campus. Students now have the resources to support them in their planning and preparation for considering study abroad, including awareness of financial aid and scholarships.
In just the first year, WCC supported a student applicant to secure a Gilman Scholarship — the first awarded in WCC’s history. Plans to expand programming are in the works, with the next country destination being Costa Rica.