Public Health student Jessica He speaks before UMass Board of Trustees

December 31, 2012

Public Health undergraduate Jessica He spoke about her study abroad experiences before the University of Massachusetts Board of Trustees at a meeting held on November 28, 2012 at the UMass Club in Boston. Ms. He was one of five student representatives from each of the campuses in the University system invited to speak about their international research and educational experiences.

“The meeting really revolved around us,” says Ms. He, who represented the Amherst campus.

The Board of Trustees has responsibility for assuring University funds are spent properly, and the Nov. 28 meeting focused on the effectiveness and efficiency of study abroad programs. The audience of approximately thirty people at the meeting consisted of the Board, and the Chancellors and Provosts from all five UMass campuses.

Laurel Foster-Moore, Associate Director for Education Abroad in the UMass Amherst International Programs Office (IPO), asked Ms. He to represent the campus at the meeting. Ms. He was invited to speak “from the heart” for five minutes about her experiences in Thailand during six weeks of study abroad in Summer 2011.

“I was really surprised because a lot of these people were doing research,” says Ms. He. “I had more of a Public Health experience, and it changed me,” she adds.

Ms. He talked in her presentation about the two courses she took at Payap University in Chiang Mai, Thailand, as well as her travels throughout the country. Those courses, one focusing on human rights abuses in Burma and another about the economic and cultural factors in the Thai sex trade, led her to the conclusion that, “a commitment to Public Health is a commitment to global health.” Ms. He plans to further pursue this realization by applying to the Peace Corps when she graduates this May.

Following Ms. He’s presentation she answered audience questions, and while she felt they were receptive to her message about the powerful impact of study abroad in her life, there was also skepticism among the group. She mentions one provost who asked her if expanding study abroad opportunities “is not so much about raising money as much as raising awareness [of existing opportunities].” Ms. He, who traveled in part through a Gilman scholarship for students in financial need, responded that expansion should increase both opportunities and awareness. “I feel like my example as a nontraditional student would also inspire similar students to study abroad,” adds Ms. He.

While the conclusions of the Board have not yet been made public, Ms. He felt the response was positive. “They were thinking of ways to expand opportunities,” she notes, including helping more UMass students study abroad, sending more faculty abroad, and working out exchanges allowing students and faculty from international colleges and universities to visit UMass.

More opportunities are a positive thing for the university, says Ms. He. “Studying abroad was a really cool experience. Just six weeks changed my life,” she declares.