Sam Lazarus ‘09, left, worked with Chinese scientist Ma Jun during his time studying abroad.

MIDDLEBURY, Vt.—Middlebury has received a $700,000 grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to connect students’ study-abroad research with faculty advising and stimulate new courses when they return to the College.

Starting with the 2010-2011 academic year, the new project, called “Integrating Study Abroad,” will offer:

  • Workshops focusing on research methodology and cultural awareness that will help students design research projects before they leave the United States.
  • Guidance from Middlebury faculty in Vermont, together with the directors, faculty, and staff at the Schools Abroad, to work closely with students while overseas to ensure the success of their independent research projects.
  • New advanced courses, available during the 2010-11 academic year, intended to integrate students’ experiences abroad and provide support for continued research.

The grant, which is for four years, builds on Middlebury’s longstanding interdisciplinary emphasis on international education.

“The Mellon grant will strengthen our students’ educational opportunities by linking their studies during junior year abroad with senior projects when they return to campus,” said Middlebury College President Ronald D. Liebowitz. “Conducting research while abroad reinforces the College’s philosophy of linguistic and cultural immersion, accelerates our students’ mastery of a culture other than one’s own, and provides material for independent senior work at Middlebury. The new project supported by the Mellon Foundation will add to Middlebury’s extensive network of international programs and resources, which are built on the foundation of our broad liberal arts curriculum.”

Middlebury is taking on the “Integrating Study Abroad” project in recognition of the increasing number of Middlebury students who are tackling ambitious independent projects during and after their study abroad. The work of three recent Middlebury graduates illustrates the power and reach of this study-abroad research.

Abigail Blum ‘09 studied abroad in South Africa for a semester and then received an International Research Travel Grant from the College’s Rohatyn Center for International Affairs (RCFIA) to return to South Africa the following summer. She researched the South African Constitutional Court and its recent rulings dealing with the expansion of human rights. She interviewed judges, lawyers, scholars, and social leaders as part of this research project.

Blum was able to “hit the ground running” with her research and make the most of her second trip to South Africa because of the “support network” she had established on her first trip and the preparation that went into her second trip. A political science and African studies major, Blum’s senior thesis was titled “Overcoming the ‘Hollow Ring’: The Implementation of Socioeconomic Rights Rulings in South Africa.”

Samuel Lazarus ‘09 conducted independent research abroad that resulted in positive change for the people in the Jiangsu, Zhejiang and Sichuan regions of China. His knowledge of geographic information systems (GIS), together with the maps he created, helped the Chinese scientist Ma Jun determine the environmental impact of certain factories on the regions’ drinking water supplies.

Lazarus majored in Chinese and geography at Middlebury, and is currently a Princeton University Fellow in Asia where he teaches English to high school students in Taiwan. When he learned about the Mellon grant he wrote in an e-mail: “The new program is a big step toward encouraging students to get directly involved with their communities while they are studying abroad. At the Middlebury School in China our teachers recognized that the most important classroom we had was China itself. By encouraging Midd students to find ways to participate in the global classroom, their experiences will be enriched beyond measure.”

A third graduate, Ria Shroff ‘09, a Spanish major, received an RCFIA International Research Travel Grant to examine “the mythical cult status of Eva Perón and the importance it retains for the current generation of Argentines.” Her findings informed her final thesis written in Spanish about how the feminine body, art and memory have shaped the artistic and literary representations of Perón.

Shroff said her time in Argentina allowed her to realize some of her goals and create new ones that she later fulfilled through the development of her thesis. “None of this would have been possible,” Shroff said, “had I not had the opportunity to do this research and investigation firsthand in Buenos Aires—walking in streets lined with posters of Evita, sitting in parks named after her, and talking to people who lined up in front of her tomb every Sunday.”

The Mellon grant will greatly expand opportunities for students to engage in these sorts of projects. It will also strongly encourage faculty involvement in this research, and provide connections for students upon their return to Middlebury. Providing support for students to pursue, and faculty to supervise these international research projects will encourage further close collaboration between faculty and students, which is a cornerstone of Middlebury’s model of education.