IDEAS Grant to take NMU students to Belize

By Journal Staff

MARQUETTE — With $35,000 in funding from the U.S. Department of State’s program encouraging study abroad, Northern Michigan University will be able to send education majors to Belize.

These funds were awarded to 37 universities in the country — and only one in Michigan — as part of the 2024 Increase and Diversify Education Abroad for U.S. Students program. This program is designed to better prepare these students to humanize diverse populations and cultures in their teaching careers.

Through a partnership with the nonprofit organization Heart to Heart Belize, NMU faculty members will lead students on a 10-day immersion in literacy-based activities in the San Ignacio area of the Central American country next May. They will assist teachers in local classrooms, tutor small groups and distribute and read books at a community market.

Grant application co-author and assistant professor Kristen White said, “The (pre-kindergarten through grade 12) population in the United States is increasingly diverse culturally, linguistically and racially.”

Colleagues Bethney Bergh and Laura Kennedy assisted White in the grant application process.

“We see the gap in the Michigan Department of Education surveys we have our student teachers and their mentors complete,” Kennedy said. “One of the questions is how well prepared are you to work with diverse populations and our candidates are telling us that they’re not prepared. Their mentors are telling us our candidates aren’t prepared. This is an opportunity for us to close that gap a bit for both future and practicing teachers. We’re ecstatic.”

NMU assistant dean and director of the School of Education, Leadership and Public Service Joe Lubig praised the grant application team for its accomplishment.

The grant includes an exchange component of bringing Heart to Heart Belize’s founder to the NMU campus. Lubig will present information on Belize culture and the country’s education system to a winter semester course preceding the NMU delegation’s departure to prepare students and faculty for what they will experience in the country.

All three faculty members who wrote the grant can vouch for the value of international education based on their own past experiences abroad. Kennedy studied in Kenya while in college, then taught professionally for seven years in South Korea.

“It allowed me to see education from another lens through a different culture, and to think about the linguistic demands of education,” she said. “So many things are English- and text-based. There were eight languages represented in my Korean classroom. I had to consider how you communicate and teach when you don’t share a common language. That experience was life-changing for me.”

The faculty leading this work will also partner with community and tribal colleges, assuring that NMU is also leveraging regional rural partnerships.

“A lot of our students transfer from community colleges,” said White. “When we looked at the research on which student population was least likely to study abroad, it’s actually students at community colleges. So we’re going to start with Bay College in Escanaba this coming year and next year we’ll be able to recruit from all four (community colleges) in the U.P. We are trying to increase access to international experiences for students who might not otherwise have that opportunity.”


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