Not too long ago, the Honors College’s annual Pitch Party was a simple affair. We had maybe two trips to pitch to students, and we were so proud of that. For over 30 years, Honors has organized study tours that help Honors students see the world and get to know each other. So in the old days, we would meet on the second Friday in September to talk about the options, both trips getting equal time. Then service learning trips came along, and an amazing Galapagos adventure; and we began to get more involved in inviting our friends from other UH colleges and departments who run learning abroad programs. Now, the Honors Pitch Party for study abroad and study away opportunities has ballooned up to where it barely fits in the Rockwell Pavilion!
Last Friday we had 19 glorious tables of opportunities, ranging from study tours to Russia, Wales / Ireland, and Peru, to Wintersession programs through Liberal Studies, summer programs in France and Spain through MCL and Hispanic Studies, to India with India Studies, clinical service learning in Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala and Vietnam, another Galapagos adventure, and internships in Austin and Washington DC as well as fellowships in human rights through the Hobby School of Public Affairs. The Graduate College of Social Work was there as well, pitching its new programs in China and Latin America.
We also had a table for the undergraduate SURF program (which can be used to fund study abroad), and competitive international scholarships (Fulbright, CLS, Boren Awards). And our friends from the Office of Learning Abroad, Maggie Brock and Ryan Michaud, who are full-time learning abroad advisers, were there with information on further scholarships and the Passport for Coogs program.
This year, it wasn’t just faculty and staff pitching, however. We mobilized a number of student volunteers to help pitch for programs they have already been on. We have found that students are the most effective advocates for learning abroad, and we try to stay out of their way— and they have so much to be proud of! Global Humanitarian Student Initiative Co-Founders Dennis Kunichoff and Pietro Cicalese were there pitching for a return trip to Sicily, where last May they worked with refugees living in settlement programs set up by the Italian government.
Rachel Shenoi represented the P.A.I.R program, which organizes volunteers to tutor and mentor refugee students who are settling in Houston. Other student organizations included the Global Medical Brigades and the Friends of Haiti, a group that came into being after Cougars began doing service learning trips organized by then faculty member (and Honors alumna) Shasta Jones. Luckily I was very busy doing “passport control” at the exit; otherwise, I would have busted all my buttons with Cougar pride at the many excellent things the students are accomplishing.
The idea of the Pitch Party has evolved, too. Instead of just an exposition of opportunities, it has become the starting point for students to begin forging a whole plan of international study to add greater value to their education and personal experience. The opportunities are so many now—but only while they are undergraduates. Opportunities for graduate students certainly exist, but they are more locked down to the pre-professional track at that point. The wide opportunities of youth, when you can still take time to learn a language well or put out to sea on a tall ship, begin to shrink as real adult life and its responsibilities devour all your time.
So our goal now is to make the Pitch Party just the first in a series of conversations, a way of getting students to take full advantage of the amazing variety of ways they can connect their learning to the world.
Next year, who knows? Maybe there will be elephants…
—Richard H Armstrong
Coordinator of International Programs
The Honors College