Increasing Accessibility for Underrepresented Students to Study Abroad

Apr 4, 2018 10:30:00 AM / by Irene Kanthan

An Interview with CAPA Institutional Relations Manager for Equity and Inclusion Initiatives: Darin Smith-Gaddis

Headshot_CTA_DarinSmithGaddis

Meet Darin Smith-Gaddis, CAPA's first Institutional Relations Manager for Equity and Inclusion InitiativesSince his start with CAPA in 2014, Darin has focused on building relationships with institutional partners. Drawing from his experience in developing key programs for education and diversity and inclusion efforts, he is committed to helping others understand and expand access for underrepresented students to study abroad. Below, he shares what led to his current role at CAPA, why study abroad is important, and how educators and institutions can be more inclusive. 

CAPA WORLD: Tell us a bit about yourself and your work with CAPA.
DARIN SMITH-GADDIS: I work on Equity and Inclusion initiatives as an Institutional Relations Manager for CAPA. I’ve had the opportunity to travel most of my life, starting with many trips from my home, Anchorage, Alaska, to visit relatives and friends in other states and other countries. I participated in my first study abroad in high school, spending an academic year in Brasilia, Brazil. After that I guess I never stopped. I participated in two study abroad programs in undergrad to the Czech Republic and several former Yugoslav countries and just kept going. By 30 I’d flown over 1 million miles getting to know the diverse communities and cultures that make up our world. At CAPA my primary goal is to increase accessibility for students to study abroad. Working with faculty, administrators and students, I try to bring study abroad concepts to fruition, create connections that lead to programs, and develop solutions to challenges to break down barriers. This means making sure our partners are informed and supported as they pursue their respective institutional missions.

CAPA Study Abroad_From Darin Smith-Gaddis - IrelandSpending time in Ireland

CW: Can you tell us more about your professional background and what led you to your current role at CAPA?
DGS: For many years I worked for a high school international education organization. My first job in education abroad was to provide summer airport and orientation logistics for students returning from and departing to their study abroad program. Shortly after, I received my first big break to build the U.S. Department of State Youth Exchange and Study Abroad (YES Abroad) program, expand the National Security Language Initiative for Youth (NSLI-Y) program, and manage the Congress Bundestag Youth Exchange (CBYX) program. I had to develop a year program with international scope, build an application and selection process, design a pre- and post-program orientation, coordinate with overseas partners and send the first cohort of students within 6 months. This experience was the foundation for everything that came next in my career. After working on the State Department programs, I pivoted to managing and expanding a national program recruiting high-achieving historically underserved students in urban centers in partnership with community-based organizations across the United States. During this time, I focused on relationship-building across fields and better understanding issues of equity and access in our education system. This period solidified my desire to focus on social justice issues with education abroad. Moving from high school to higher education was a jump that exposed me to a much larger world of international education. As an institutional relations manager at CAPA, I utilized all my skills (and had to learn new ones!) to build trust in existing and new institutional partners. After gaining confidence and understanding the education abroad higher education field, I worked with CAPA to bring my focus on equity, inclusion and access into my role in a more defined way. CAPA has been a great partner in the process and I am excited to support CAPA’s focus on supporting historically underrepresented and underserved students.

CAPA Study Abroad_From Darin Smith-Gaddis - PortugalVisiting Portugal

CW: Why is study abroad important?
DGS: There are around 7.6 billion people on the planet. 325 million or 4.2% live in the United States. I think we can all agree that the world is a big place and with ever increasing movement of peoples, our communities are influenced by the ideas, products, and processes from all over the world. U.S. based students are at a competitive disadvantage to the rest of the world if they do not critically analyze the world around them and gain perspective about themselves and the world they live in. Study abroad is one way to do so. There are not walls that can be built to keep globalization and its impact at bay. Preparation requires action and study abroad being the high impact practice that it is, delivers demonstrable growth in personal and professional development. Most importantly however, study abroad is a tool to help people think about context and perspective. In today’s world the ability to think about the “other” and the empathy that develops from it is lacking. Being exposed to different perspectives has the potential to make us all better human beings.

CW: What does CAPA’s diversity committee do?
DGS: The committee is engaged in a lot of initiatives, internal and external. The committee supports the work of the executive team to continually evaluate and advance CAPA’s commitment to diversity and inclusive excellence. We also develop student programs that support the continued academic study of social justice work by our students abroad, such as with the Diversity Advocates program. The committee also organizes diversity and inclusion training for CAPA staff and faculty and advises on other matters related to issues of access and equity.

CAPA Study Abroad_From Darin Smith-Gaddis - JapanExploring Japan

CW: Why is access to international education important for underrepresented students?
DGS: Access to international education is important for all students. Access to international education is critical for underrepresented students because without it there is the potential to be left further behind.

CW: Can you share with us some of your proudest accomplishments from your work with diversity and inclusion in international education?
DGS: Working with the U.S. Department of State to create a pipeline for underrepresented students to be better represented in the selection process for the YES Abroad and NSLI-Y program was a great experience. Separately, through my work on the AFS-USA Faces of America program significantly increasing the number of minority students studying abroad on high school programs from 56 to 250 within two years. Also creating the corporate diversity statement for my previous employer and managing to get it ratified through a nationwide vote of volunteers. Finally working with CAPA to develop the first Institutional Relations Manager for Equity and Inclusion Initiatives position. My drive is to build systems (i.e. programs and recruiting structures) that level the playing field for historically underrepresented communities in academic or experiential learning abroad that will have impact for the long term.

CAPA Study Abroad_From Darin Smith-Gaddis - Northern IrelandExperiencing Northern Ireland

CW: What are some things faculty, educators, and institutions can do to be more inclusive in the world of study abroad?
DGS: Take a closer look at who’s at the table, designing, marketing and supporting your programs. Diversity isn’t just about 2-D diversity, it’s also about diversity of thought. Increasing access for historically underrepresented students means engaging with colleagues who have legitimacy in those communities. Widen the tent and think about your hiring practices. Do you have a diverse staff to support a diverse participant community? Also, data and continuous evaluation are key. Without it you don’t know where your successes are and your areas of improvement. Constant evaluation and reflection on equity and inclusivity KPI’s, objectives and goals will keep the focus on raising all boats in study abroad.

Thanks, Darin!

Interested in knowing more about how CAPA is committed to diversity, inclusion, and study abroad access for minority students? Click below to book a call with Darin Smith-Gaddis!

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Topics: Interviews, Diversity Abroad, CAPA Staff