WMU among grant winners recognized at 'Americas' summit

contact: Jeanne Baron
| WMU News
Photo of class participants with faculty members.

Both Sides of the Fence students and faculty members gather for a group photo with migrant farm workers in Van Buren County, Michigan.

KALAMAZOO, Mich.—Western Michigan University's Both Sides of the Fence study abroad program is one of 10 U.S. university programs that have won the latest round in a grant funding competition aimed at new innovative partnerships that will increase student mobility to and from Latin America, the Caribbean and the United States.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry announced the winners of the 100,000 Strong in the Americas Innovation Fund competition April 9. The universities awarded grants were celebrated the following day at a reception during the Summit of the Americas, held April 10 and 11 in Panama City, Panama.

About 100,000 Strong in the Americas

The 100,000 Strong in the Americas initiative is President Barack Obama's signature education effort in the Western Hemisphere. Its goal is to increase the number of U.S. students studying in the Western Hemisphere to 100,000, and the number of students from Latin America and the Caribbean studying in the United States to 100,000 by 2020.

Funding was granted to only 10 percent of the proposals submitted to the competition, which was open to higher education institutions in all countries throughout the Western Hemisphere and to all fields of study. In a news release about the 10 winners, Steve Vetter, president and CEO of Partners of the Americas said, "100,000 Strong in the Americas continues to demonstrate the desire of institutions to overcome their barriers and work together to build the globally and culturally competent workforce companies increasingly demand."

WMU's Both Sides of the Fence course received a $25,000 grant funded by the Coca-Cola Foundation. Through Santander Universities, Santander Bank, N.A. funded grants to the other competition winners: California State University, Los Angeles; Northeastern Illinois University; Northern Arizona University; Northwestern University; Texas State University; the University of California, San Diego; the University of New Mexico; Virginia Commonwealth University; and West Virginia University.

Both Sides of the Fence

Photo of Mexican women attending a workshop.

Women in Toreadores, Guanajuato, attend a 2014 Both Sides of the Fence workshop on stress reduction.

The 100,000 Strong in the Americas Innovation Fund grant will allow for significant expansion of the Both Sides of the Fence study abroad program piloted last summer by the College of Health and Human Services and funded by the Fetzer Institute in Kalamazoo.

The four-credit course exposes college students from the United States and Mexico to the challenges of migration and its impact on personal and community health. Both Mexican and U.S. students will learn, live and work together in migrant communities in Michigan and rural villages in Guanajuato, Mexico, gaining insight into the immigrant experience, particularly as it relates to nutrition.

Both Sides of the Fence is offered through WMU Study Abroad in the Haenicke Institute for Global Education. To learn more, visit wmich.edu/studyabroad. To apply, contact WMU Study Abroad at (269) 387-5890 or complete the online application available on this office's website.

This summer's course

Photo of Denise Bowen.


This summer's course will begin at WMU June 29 and finish in Mexico Aug. 1. The deadline to apply is Thursday, April 30. For 2015, the program will involve students from WMU and the Universidad DeLaSalle Bajio in Leon, Mexico. The Community Foundation of the Bajio, a Mexican nonprofit organization working in rural communities affected by migration, will play a supporting role in the project.

"The purpose of this program is to better understand the challenges of Mexican migration from both sides of the fence," says Dr. Maureen Mickus, WMU associate professor of occupational therapy and the program's co-director. "We're excited about offering this unique cultural exchange with an important service-learning opportunity, with Mexican and U.S. students learning from each other and working together toward a common goal."

Photo of Maureen Mickus.


Students accepted into the course will take part in field visits to Michigan migrant camps and hear presentations from a range of professionals working in migrant services. During their time in Guanajuato, the Mexican and U.S. students will engage in community-service activities in two small, impoverished communities. These activities will include an intergenerational day camp focusing on traditional cooking, healthy eating and exercise.

Questions about the course may be directed to Denise Bowen at denise.bowen@wmich.edu or (269) 387-5316 or to Maureen Mickus at maureen.mickus@wmich.edu or (269) 387-7326.

Critical educational need

Photo of a WMU student talking with a group of women.

WMU student Alma Rosales chats with women in Toreadores, Guanajuato, after conducting a stress reduction workshop.

The growth in America's Latino population continues to outpace the growth in all other minority groups, reports Denise Bowen, WMU assistant professor of physician assistant and the other co-director of Both Sides of the Fence. Moreover, she says, the vast majority of immigrants to the United States are Mexican, with the highest percentage coming from the Mexican state of Guanajuato.

"That's one of the most important U.S. demographic trends, so there's a critical need to educate students, particularly future health care professionals, about the cultural, economic and social impact of migration. Health disparities among Latinos, coupled with a lack of trained, culturally sensitive, Spanish-speaking professionals, already present serious problems in the United States," Bowen says.

"Both Sides of the Fence tries to bridge the gap by preparing students to be informed, compassionate leaders in this complex societal arena. It offers students a two-pronged approach to learning about the challenges of migration, both from people living in Mexico and those who have already migrated to the United States. And, at the heart of this program is the opportunity for U.S. students to develop cultural humility."

About the competition

The 100,000 Strong in the Americas Innovation Fund is a public-private collaboration of the White House, U.S. Department of State, Partners of the Americas, and the organization known as NAFSA: The Association of International Educators.

Since launching the Innovation Fund in January 2014, the Innovation Network has grown to 1,300 higher education institutions. Of those institutions, 490 universities from 28 countries have applied for Innovation Fund grants. To date, 48 grants have been awarded to teams of 110 higher education institutions from 16 countries in the Western Hemisphere region.

NAFSA executive director and CEO Marlene M. Johnson said the Innovation Fund offers the most sustainable method to exponentially grow study abroad.

"By challenging institutions to expand and develop their bold ideas to make study abroad the norm, not the exception," Johnson says, "this initiative is building tomorrow's generation of global leaders more effectively than ever before."

For more information about 100,000 Strong in the Americas, visit 100kstrongamericas.org.

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