Officials at West Virginia State, Bluefield State look forward to opportunities with federal grant for international education

INSTITUTE, W.Va. — West Virginia State University and Bluefield State University are receiving federal grant money to expand international education opportunities for students.

The West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission (HEPC), 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 was announced in the past week. Dr. James Natsis, Director of International Studies and an Assistant Professor of Modern Foreign Languages at WVSU told MetroNews this will open up opportunities for students to travel abroad.

Dr. James Natsis

“It’s not always not having the willingness to go outside the U.S., it’s often not having the funds for it. The grant allows us and Bluefield State, to provide opportunities for our students to study abroad,” Natsis said.

The grant, combined with the Commission’s international efforts, is meant to empower these students in West Virginia to develop foreign language proficiency, engage in international internships, and pursue study abroad opportunities.

Natsis, who also coordinates international studies at WVSU, said the state needs continued support on these studies. He pointed to the most recent U.S. Census data of West Virginia being last in foreign-born residents per capita and language other than English per capita.

“I personally think that there is a correlation between our economic woes and stagnation and the lack of immigration and internationalization,” Natsis said.

A news release stated that through this new Undergraduate International Studies and Foreign Language 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.

Natsis expects students to be able to be international student ambassadors, engage in internationally focused internships with global companies and organizations, and study in places such as Canada and Washington D.C.

Natsis said he thanks the HEPC for the support because its funding of such a grant can help improve the state’s international relations.

“We have to be a little savvier in global awareness, global literacy, bringing in people from outside of the area. Not only from abroad but people within the United States,” he said.

“The state needs to double down and leverage this type of initiative to start setting the course in the next decade and beyond of helping us become more competitive globally.”

Dr. Sudhakar R. Jamkhandi, Director of International Initiatives and Professor of English at BSU said in a release, “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.”

The news release details 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.