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WIU Professors Gloria Delany-Barmann and Heather McIlvaine-Newsad (left) traveled to Puerto Rico with four students in June as part of a federal grant to learn about the region's rich history.
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WIU students and faculty immersed themselves in the Latin American culture during their visit. The students helped build adobe homes in Puerto Rico.
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WIU student Stephanie Herrera with Pan de Vida in their projects serving the needs of homeless families from the streets of Quito in Ecuador.
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Maria Ruiz and Francesca Hamm also worked with Pad de Vida and homeless families in Ecuador.
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WIU student Alexis Clark was on eof four WIU students who worked with private businesses in Ecuador.
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Federal Grant Sponsors Summer Travel Opportunities for 12 WIU Students and Three Faculty

August 2, 2018

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MACOMB, IL – A three-year, grant-funded program has provided Western Illinois University students with the opportunity to study with University faculty outside the classroom this summer in both Puerto Rico and Ecuador.

In 2016, WIU, in partnership with Spoon River College (SRC), received one of 24 U.S. Department of Education Title VI Undergraduate International Studies and Foreign Language (UISFL) grants through the "Communities as Agents: Language and Area Studies for a Sustainable Future" project. The grant is directed by WIU Educational Studies Professor Gloria Delany-Barmann and covers three years of academic travel offerings for students. The program offers faculty the chance to integrate international components into current courses and an opportunity to develop short- or long-term travel programs for students. There are also a sizable number of scholarships available for students who want to immerse themselves in Latin American culture.

Last summer, the leaders of the project continued working with students and faculty, providing them with opportunities to immerse in the realities of Puerto Rico and Ecuador. These opportunities involved the development of a faculty-led initiative and internships to Puerto Rico, and internships coordinated with community based organizations and academic institutions in Ecuador.

The Puerto Rican Experience:

Last summer, Delany-Barmann and WIU Sociology and Anthropology Professor Heather McIlvaine-Newsad, the program's academic director, designed an opportunity for a group of students who traveled to Puerto Rico to study. This year, Delany-Barmann and McIlvaine-Newsad traveled to Puerto Rico with four students in June: Lindisty Littell, a senior anthropology and computer science double major from Bloomington, IL; Colton Markey, a sophomore foreign languages and cultures major from Macomb; Angelina Weglarczyk, a college student personnel graduate student from Chicago; and Erin Trybulec, a senior foreign languages and cultures student from Chicago.

During the four-week experience, the students learned about Puerto Rico's rich history and worked with two WIU alumni who live in the country and work on grassroots projects in the region.

"We had a Puerto Rican history lesson every day from a teacher in a local private school," said McIlvaine-Newsad. "We learned so much about the country's history, from contemporary issues to the underdeveloped infrastructure. The history classes pointed out things we observed in everyday life, thus making the connection from the classroom to the real world."

Delany-Barmann said the academic experience included walking tours of various communities, lessons about eco-tourism and experiencing the recovery of the country after last year's devastating fall hurricanes.

"Being with students in the field like this is something that's important to us," said Delany-Barmann. "This opportunity is only available to 10 percent of university students nationwide, and the experience sets people apart. It's the kind of international experience that doesn't happen everywhere."

Littell said one of the most interesting parts of the student experience was "meeting people who loved what they did."

"They all had different backgrounds, but they came together and used the various knowledge among them to help create change and make something spectacular," she said.

She added that the students on the study experience will take information gained from the people of Puerto Rico and use it to "continue the cycle of sharing and learning."

"This experience has reminded me that we can accomplish things on our own, but when we work with other people who have different backgrounds, we are able to create something even more amazing," said Littell. "It has reminded me that everyone has different ideas, skills and sets of knowledge that can be utilized; you just have to ask and be open."

McIlvaine-Newsad said the students worked in Puerto Rican communities and schools to observe not only the country's culture, but also how residents are working together on the hurricane recovery effort. One specific school the students and professors visited is trying to add solar energy to its building, with school officials and community members training to maintain the solar grid.

During the aftermath of last fall's hurricanes, the school also served meals to nearly 5,000 people.

"Fieldwork is the anthropology experience," said McIlvaine-Newsad. "The students went to the schools to work on projects and to help the communities. We talked about the importance of schools as community centers, to accommodate people, to be an intellectual space and to apply that knowledge to the real world. This experience changed the way they will walk in the world and that's invaluable – they can't learn that in a textbook."

The two professors maintained a site on the University's Western Online system to offer students readings and background information prior to the trip. The students earned University course credit for the trip.

Delany-Barmann and McIlvaine-Newsad said the trip also gave students the opportunity to experience time with their professors outside the classroom.

"They see what we do, what excites us and that their lessons have real world applicability," said McIlvaine-Newsad. "They also get to see the lessons firsthand. It was also magical to see our current students connect with our former students. It allows students to take their skill sets they've learned and apply it to things they are passionate about. It also shows them the versatility of the available career options."

Delany-Barmann and McIlvaine-Newsad stayed for one week, while the students stayed for three additional weeks. During their time in Puerto Rico, the students worked on a variety of projects, including helping to build new adobe homes.

Traveling and Experiencing Ecuador

Pedro Bidegaray, director of WIU's Study Abroad and Outreach program, in coordination with Pan de Vida, a faith-based local organization, and the University of San Francisco de Quito, developed an internship program for WIU students. As a result, eight WIU students traveled to Ecuador for an academic experience in late May and early June. Each of the students spent their time working in a variety of locations of the cities of Quito and Cumbaya.

Students taking this summer's trip were from different disciplines across campus. Francesca Hamm, a Spring 2018 political science graduate, Maria Ruiz, a junior psychology major from Round Lake Beach, IL, and Stephanie Herrera, a senior engineering technology and foreign languages from Berwyn, IL, worked with Pan de Vida in their projects serving the needs of homeless families from the streets of Quito. Alexis Clark, a junior health services management from Chatham, IL, Mark Pedzimaz, a junior law enforcement and justice administration major from Orland Park, IL, Madison Davee, a biology major, from Springfield, IL, Joshua Cook, an accountancy major from Macomb and Kelsey Bucholtz, a Spring 2018 marketing graduate from Macomb, worked in internships organized through the University of San Francisco de Quito. All these initiatives were with private businesses and local initiatives that ranged from the provision of health care to retail.

The program gave participants an opportunity to gain additional professional skills while working with local people in culturally different settings and institutions in the South American nation. In some cases, the students used their knowledge to address specific business challenges, like in the case of Bucholtz who helped develop an online marketing strategy for local clothing, or Pedzimaz, who collected entrepreneurial practices among small local businesses. Other students were asked to generate ideas to help people in need.

This was particularly true with Hamm, who worked on developing a proposal to provide assistance to the thousands of Venezuela refugees living in Quito, and Ruiz, who worked directly with homeless women who needed to find additional sources of income to provide for their children.

Bidegaray traveled with the students and spent the four weeks supervising their internships. The opportunity was also enhanced by a partnership with The Crossing church in Macomb.

"For some of these students, it was their first time out of the United States," he said. "It really was an amazing experience. The Pan De Vida experience existed last summer, and this year we added the Universidad de San Francisco de Quito. I am very proud of how much the students accomplished and how they were changed. It shows the students how important it is to get involved globally because there is so much need in the world."

During his internship with Paniju, a distributor of natural health products, Cook said he did a wide range of projects, including accounting, researching, creating presentations, translating and marketing work.

"My internship in Ecuador was a phenomenal experience, both professionally as a business major and personally as I got to experience a fascinating new culture," said Cook. "I helped with day-to-day business activities, and feel that the experience helped prepare me for a future in international business. Overall, I would not trade my experience in Ecuador for anything and would go back in a heartbeat."

While work with health care providers in Ecuador, Clark said her experience was "life changing."

"It tested me physically, mentally and emotionally," she said. "The experience has given me a new viewpoint of the world and has humbled me as an individual. I was hesitant at first, when hearing about this opportunity, but I am so thankful I went. The summer internship opportunity gave me a unique perspective on the Ecuadorian health care system and was a perfect blend of work and adventure. I could not recommend this experience more to a student."

The federal grant pays for up to 12 student scholarships each year to study in Puerto Rico or Ecuador. Summer 2019 will be the final opportunity for these two countries.

For more information about the project, visit or contact Delany-Barmann at; Bidegaray at or McIlvaine-Newsad at

Posted By: Jodi Pospeschil (
Office of University Communications & Marketing