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Changes lead WIS program toward uncertain future

October 19, 2006

UW-River Falls biggest international program could experience some changes this next year as a result of the withdrawal of two important UW schools.

UW-La Crosse and UW-Eau Claire announced last spring to the other members of the West Central Wisconsin Consortium—UW-River Falls, UW-Stout, UW-Superior—that as of the end of summer 2007, they would no longer participate in the Wisconsin in Scotland (WIS) program.

According to Program Director Brent Greene, the universities want to leave the program because they want to have the opportunity to start their own program to directly enroll their students.

“To remain strong, the program will have to bring in additional students, either from the remaining schools or from other universities,” international studies Chair Wes Chapin said. “Either of these choices would require a change in focus and effort, and would have potential effects on the program.”

The program is working to add UW-Oshkosh and UW-Whitewater, Greene said.

Another effect the program could feel is in the number of faculty and staff involved in the program.

“Because UW-EC and UW-LC have regularly provided staff and faculty, the remaining schools would either have to increase their commitment to providing these personnel, or their replacements would have to be recruited elsewhere,” Chapin said.

Students participating in WIS may be impacted as well if the number of students significantly decreases.

“[If the program becomes smaller], it would make it more costly for anyone who participates because there would be fewer people paying for the expenses,” Chapin said. “Regardless of how many students are in the program, the building still needs to be heated, the staff still needs to be paid, the lights need to be on in the facility, and so on,” Chapin said. 

If other universities do not join the WIS program, students, staff and faculty may not have the same experiences as past participants have had.

WIS is widely respected by students who have participated or are currently enrolled in the program, as well as by the program staff.

During the first week of September, 18 UW-RF students and one faculty member left for Scotland with 37 other UW students and five faculty and staff as part of the program.

They will remain in Dalkeith, Scotland, until mid-December.
The group is living in the Dalkeith Palace, an 18th century manor house rebuilt in 1701 on the site of the original 12th century Dalkeith Castle.

University of North Dakota student Colleen Rooney and UW-RF students Sarah Sorensen and Ben Simonsen are a few of the students currently studying in the country.

Rooney went to Scotland through UW-RF as a transfer student.

“Right now I have classes Monday through Thursday and get to travel any weekend I want,” Rooney said in an e-mail. “[WIS] is nothing compared to any other program through any other university.”

Sorensen said she was excited for a trip the group had planned last weekend. 

“There was a house trip last weekend to the Castles of Northumberland, where many parts of Harry Potter were filmed,” Sorensen said in an e-mail. 

WIS organizes field trips for the group, provides host families if students choose that option and offers internships in Scotland.

One student had an internship with the Scottish Parliament, Greene said.

“What’s great is that we get three-day weekends, two four-day weekends, and a 10-day break to travel,” Simonsen said. “Many of us will be going to Italy for our break.”

“We designed the program specifically to allow cultural emergence and experience,” Greene said. “It serves as a good launching pad for global experience. The only way we are going to have hope for peace is if we get to know other cultures.”

UW-RF students Kelsey Salstrom and Kennedy Cullen went to Scotland last semester, and said the program was successful in fulfilling its purpose.

“I was really able to experience the culture by volunteering in town and taking advantage of the cheap airfare to see the world,” Salstrom said.

Cullen said she agrees that WIS offers a good cultural experience.

“I learned a lot about other cultures and was able to get to know some of the local people in Scotland,” Cullen said. “I loved traveling to different countries each weekend and getting to know another country a little more in depth than you would a normal vacation.”

It is also easy to see why some people claim WIS doesn’t provide enough of a cultural experience, Salstrom said. Participants live in a big palace with about 70 other UW students and are taught almost entirely by UW professors.

“But the semester abroad is entirely what you make of it, and you can either hop right into the Scottish culture or stay more within your comfort zone of American culture,” she said.

Chancellor Don Betz toured Scotland with students, staff and faculty in August for a leadership training course.

“Scotland is historically rich and beautiful, and is an incredible and enriching experience,” Betz said. “I cannot think of a better place to study.”

WIS provides an opportunity for students to develop individual growth, Program Assistant Flossie Hughes said.

“Students realize they can make it on their own without being an hour away from home,” Greene said.
Salstrom said the program as a safe middle ground for students.

“It is a good study abroad opportunity that provides a safe middle ground for those students that want the experience but aren’t quite ready to delve into a completely foreign culture,” Salstrom said.

WIS is the biggest international program offered on campus, and was founded in 1986.