West Virginia secures $210,000 federal grant to expand international education opportunities at West Virginia State University and Bluefield State University

hands of two students holding passports

CHARLESTON, WV – The West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission (Commission), West Virginia State University (WVSU) and Bluefield State University (BSU) have received a $210,000 two-year grant from the U.S. Department of Education to help carry out programs to strengthen and improve undergraduate instruction in international studies and foreign languages in West Virginia. The grant, combined with the Commission’s international efforts, will empower more students in West Virginia to develop foreign language proficiency, engage in international internships, and pursue study abroad opportunities.

“International education boosts our state’s economy and the academic quality and cultural diversity of our campuses,” said Dr. Clark Egnor, the Commission’s Coordinator of International Programs and co-author of the grant. “West Virginia was home to 4,152 international students in 2019, compared to 2,825 in 2022 – which is a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic. That’s why we are working with institutions to find opportunities to help build back the number of international students showing interest in West Virginia. Efforts like this that increase international opportunities for in-state students help us create a global culture on our campuses, benefitting our students and attracting international students at the same time.”

Through this new Undergraduate International Studies and Foreign Language (UISFL) grant, the Commission will build the foundation for “Global West Virginia” at WVSU and BSU, paving the way for expanded collaboration across West Virginia to internationalize degree programs and creating new opportunities for students to access international experiences. In addition, WVSU and BSU will work to increase opportunities for students to engage in internationally focused internships with global companies and organizations, while also developing students’ foreign language proficiency at advanced levels.

“This is an extraordinary juncture for our International Studies and Modern Foreign Languages programs at West Virginia State University. The funding will allow our students opportunities to enhance their language skills through study abroad over the next two summers in either Mexico or Quebec, Canada, and to participate in short-term ‘study away’ experiences in Washington, DC, and Ontario and Quebec, Canada. Several of our International Studies majors are also working as ‘student ambassadors’ to gain experience in organizing and promoting study abroad programs,” said Dr. James Natsis, Director of International Studies at WVSU.

“This grant award will allow Bluefield State University students to cultivate an understanding of the U.S. role in foreign affairs and how their participation in the study away and study abroad opportunities will enable them to understand the need for interaction on the international stage with an appreciation of other cultures of Canada and Mexico. They will appreciate looking at these two countries through the lens of French and Spanish and, hopefully, begin a lifelong passion to help others – not only in their own neighborhoods, but those of other countries, with a greater sense of humility and a growing sense of respect for folks in other countries,” stated Dr. Sudhakar R. Jamkhandi, Director of International Initiatives and Professor of English at BSU.

The Commission’s work, in partnership with WVSU, BSU and other institutions, over the next two years will include:

  • Establishing a new state-level mobile study abroad office to assist WVSU and BSU with study abroad programming and expanding the concept to other campuses;  
  • Developing four new statewide study abroad programs to be offered during the summers of 2023 and 2024 focused on North America to leverage the French and Spanish languages in Canada and Mexico;  
  • Establishing a “Global Competence Certificate” to recognize the valuable global competencies students acquire when they study or intern abroad or engage in a significant international experience during their degree study; and,
  • In Fall 2023, hosting a statewide internationalization conference open to all West Virginia higher education faculty and staff who are involved in international education on their campuses.

The Commission plans to further extend this work to additional higher education institutions following the first two UISFL grant years.

Since 2006, the Commission has operated “Study West Virginia,” an initiative representing 11 public universities that work to promote the state and their campuses as an international study destination. This work includes education trade mission road shows, virtual college fairs, tours, marketing and outreach. Member institutions also have the opportunity to partner with higher education institutions around the globe through the U.S. State Department’s J-1 Visa and Exchange Visitor Program. More than 40 agreements in 20 countries have been established since 2016.

To learn more about the state’s efforts to expand international education on college campuses, visit https://www.studywv.org/.