Wisconsin Technical College Wins Grant, Will Expand Study Abroad to Colombia

Mary Henkin

Aaron Gorenc, International Activities and Education Abroad Manager at Fox Valley Technical College (FVTC) in Appleton, WI, is passionate about students having the opportunity to study abroad. In high school, Gorenc participated in two study abroad exchanges to Germany, and as an undergraduate he studied abroad in Switzerland. Gorenc’s experiences led him to be passionate about the imperative role study abroad plays in a person’s education. “From early on, I wanted to talk with students about how and why a study abroad experience is necessary in the global economy we are in,” Gorenc said.

Gorenc first learned about the 100,000 Strong in the Americas innovation fund through an email. 100,000 Strong in the Americas is President Obama's signature education initiative in the Western Hemisphere. Its goal is to increase the number of U.S. students studying in the Western Hemisphere to 100,000, and the number of Western Hemisphere students studying in the United States to 100,000, by 2020. The initiative does this by offering grants to higher education institutions that partner with one another overseas for study abroad exchanges. When Gorenc learned that a competition round was matching U.S. community colleges with SENA institutions in Colombia, he knew he had to enter FVTC.

On Monday, Dec. 14, 2015 the White House, U.S. Department of State, Partners of the Americas, and NAFSA: Association of International Educators announced 22 new grant winners at an event with Vice President Joe Biden. And one of those winners was none other than FVTC. “The grant will allow FVTC to expand opportunities to students who otherwise wouldn’t be able to participate in a study abroad program by providing scholarships,” Gorenc said.

FVTC was partnered with SENA Centro Internacional Náutico Fluvial y Portuario (CINAFLUP) of Cartagena, Colombia. The object of their grant round, SENA Tech Challenge 2015, supported by partners SENA and CAF-Development Bank of Latin America, is to promote study abroad or exchange in innovation, research, differentiation of educational approaches to meet varying student needs, and languages. “This will be the first time FVTC has offered a program in Colombia,” Gorenc said.

Students who are currently studying in FVTC’s business entrepreneurship program, as well as students who are members of the school’s BizSauad and Women in Technology student groups, will be eligible to apply for one of five scholarships the school has made available through their grant. The first group of students will travel to Colombia in September 2016 and spend ten days immersed in a culture they otherwise my never had the chance to experience. In exchange, five CINAFLUP students will spend ten days in Wisconsin this fall. 

Prior to winning a 100,000 Strong in the Americas grant, FVTC sent around 30 students abroad a year.  Now, Gorenc is inspired to continue growing the school’s study abroad program. “Our overall goal is to double the number of students participating in study abroad programs until the total reaches 200 students per year,” Gorenc said.

Gorenc works to provide study abroad opportunities wherever an avenue arises. In addition to winning a 100,000 Strong in the Americas grant, FVTC is a member of International Student Exchange Programs, which provides summer, semester, and year abroad opportunities. “At a two-year technical college like FVTC, our sole purpose is to provide the necessary education and training to students to become employable. We truly believe that study abroad provides the essential employability skills needed in today’s global economy,” Gorenc said.