Indiana University of Pennsylvania has been selected for a program designed to help students to achieve their dreams of international study or travel abroad.

IUP is one of 40 universities in the nation selected for the Institute of International Education American Passport Project grant. This grant funds up to 25 IUP students who are first-year enrolled students who meet financial eligibility requirements to obtain a US passport to support their study abroad journeys.

However, IUP is taking this program far beyond just funding passports.

Jessica Mulvihill, director of Education Abroad in IUP’s Office of International Education who authored the grant application, has developed a comprehensive support and mentoring program for students who qualify for the project.

“Since COVID-19 restrictions have eased for travel, we are seeing a greater interest from students in study abroad and international experiences,” Mulvihill said. “But many students, especially first-generation college students who have never traveled outside of the United States, think that they could never travel abroad. Just that first step of getting a passport is an impediment to even thinking about travel abroad. Part of it may be a concern about cost, but another issue is the concern over the entire process of preparing for travel—It can feel overwhelming,” she said.

“We’ve seen students who may have an interest in study abroad but don’t have a passport automatically assume this experience is just not for them,” she said. “By helping these students obtain a passport, it’s the first step to opening up, literally, a world of possibilities. But we will be building on this funding in our IUP program.”

Mulvihill will bring students who qualify for the project together into the Passport Scholars Group. Each member will be matched with an upperclass IUP student who has done study or travel abroad, and members of the Passport Scholars Group will attend sessions specially developed for them throughout the year about study abroad, including how it advantages students as they build their careers after graduation, and as critical thinkers for all of their lives. Students in the program do not have to commit to study abroad.

“Your first year of college can be overwhelming, let alone thinking about other opportunities like going abroad,” she said. “We want to help these students as much as possible, especially students who are the first generation in their family to attend college.”

Part of the Passport Project’s national mission is to increase participation and diversity in study abroad and to extend these benefits for all students, regardless of socioeconomic status. The goal for the project is that 10,000 qualified students obtain passports over the next decade.

“This project is an investment in our students,” she said. “We want to show students that study abroad is accessible and possible, and how being exposed to different countries and cultures can truly broaden their educational—and personal—experiences. Students may also want to travel for personal enrichment, or volunteer for projects in countries outside the United States. That’s all part of helping students grow, and add to their IUP education,” she said. “Travel, volunteer experiences, or study abroad is also something that sets students apart from other applicants for employment, not just in their first job searches, but throughout their lives.”

IUP’s Office of International Education facilitates the travel and study abroad process for IUP students and employees.

Following strict COVID-19 restrictions related to travel, during summer 2021, 23 IUP students participated in international travel, including a faculty-led group to Germany. Locations included Costa Rica, Germany, Italy, Romania, and South Africa. During the 2021–22 academic year, there were 17 students studying abroad in South Korea, Mexico, England, Northern Ireland, Spain, Croatia, and Canada.

This summer, 53 students will be traveling abroad, including three faculty-led programs in Norway, Germany, and Honduras. Students are studying in Australia, Costa Rica, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Honduras, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Peru, South Korea, Spain, and England. The IUP Fellowship of Christian Athletes are returning to their mission work in the Dominican Republic this year, with a large group of students, led by IUP athletics staff.

All IUP students with a 2.5 grade point average are eligible for an education abroad experience, and there are a number of options: opportunities are available in the summer, for a semester, for a full year, or for winter term, along with short-term programs within a semester. The IUP Office of International Education also is responsible for National Student Exchange which has students travel for a semester exchange to a destination within the United States, Canada, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the United States Virgin Islands.

Just under 400 students from outside the United States study at IUP each year.

Students qualify for the American Passport Project program if they are in their first year of enrollment at IUP (transfer students who come to IUP from other colleges are eligible in their first year at IUP) and if they qualify for national Pell grants (as determined by the FASFA). The program will begin in fall 2022.

IUP students will be able to get information about the American Passport Grant and the IUP Passport Scholars program through their MyIUP account in the coming weeks.