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Giving Impact: Helping Students ‘Take Off’

Mesara
The Mesara Family on vacation.

Students who study abroad receive more job offers and make higher starting salaries. Coupled with the fact that you get to see the world, it’s not surprising that many students are eager to experience global travel as a part of their studies.

But while most students would like to take this opportunity, many are hesitant to take on more debt, says Dr. Lee Penyak director of study abroad at WMU, which is unit of the Diether H. Haenicke Institute for Global Education.

Many rely on financial aid to make their trips become a reality, which is when scholarships like the Bruce W. Mesara Study Abroad Airfare Fund become game changers for students.

“Studying abroad is a wonderful experience, that comes with a rather large upfront cost for a college student,” said Dennis Schneider (B.S.’18, Industrial and Entrepreneurial Engineering), who studied abroad in the Netherlands for a semester in 2017-18. Today, he works as an analyst in supply and logistics for Whirlpool Corporation.

“Through proper planning, hard work, and determination, I was able to secure and save proper funding for the trip by receiving several scholarships. The Mesara Airfare Scholarship was able to help cover an expense that would have been difficult to cover that is critical to the trip.” 

While the total cost to study abroad is a barrier for many, airfare is a sizable chunk of the price tag. Students will also have to budget for passport and visa fees, in some cases credit hours, room and board, and local transportation among other costs. The Mesara Scholarship, which has benefited nearly 100 students over the course of its four-year existence, awards students $1000 to help cover the cost of airfare.

Dr. Bruce Mesara and his wife Carolyn, for whom the scholarship is named, didn’t attend WMU but felt strong ties to the Kalamazoo Community, where they spent much of their lives.  The Mesara Family Foundation was originally conceived by Dr. Mesara in 1990 as a means to carry on his philanthropic efforts beyond his lifetime.  In 2014, the Mesara Family Foundation was re-envisioned by his two children, Amy and Douglas, and received 501(c)(3) status in 2015. 

“They sought out organizations to support that impacted their lives and the lives of their children, friends, and family members. When Doug learned about the challenges that students studying abroad face, he and Carolyn felt a scholarship would be an ideal combination of local support and Bruce’s passion for travel,” said Dr. Jane Blyth, who serves as the director of operations for the foundation, and is also the former director of study abroad and executive director of the Haenicke Institute at WMU.

“I saw again and again that paying airfare was one of the barriers to study abroad for many students,” Jane said. “Through discussions of funding possibilities for the foundation, we came up with the idea of funding student airfare for study abroad, hoping to reduce at least one of the barriers for some students.”

In the post World War II years, Bruce’s family traveled around America where he learned that personal experiences are just as important as education.  After he finished medical school and was discharged from the Army, Bruce and Carolyn continued to travel both domestically and internationally.  Bruce felt it was important the family went somewhere together at least once a year.  He wanted his children to personally see and experience as much of America and the world as possible. As Doug was searching for colleges, one of Bruce's recommendations was finding a school with opportunities for study overseas. Doug was able to study abroad in Belgium and had the chance to learn firsthand the benefits of study abroad, Doug explained.

Bruce was on to something. In addition to helping students excel academically and succeed professionally, graduation rates for students who study abroad are 20% higher, with impact even stronger for minority or low-income students—including higher GPAs.

“Having this experience is crucial to understanding how to put yourself in the shoes of others when working for a corporation, making business decisions or in engineering to design products for individuals that live different lifestyles,” Dennis said. “In today's globalized workforce, this is important now more than ever to be effective and successful.”       

The benefits of studying abroad don’t just stop there. WMU Study Abroad reports that students who make the trip show gains in employability, tolerance, self-awareness, humility, complex thinking, flexibility, resiliency, creativity, and confidence.

“Studying abroad for a full semester in the Netherlands was an incredible experience that helped me grow outside of my comfort zone,” Dennis said. “Fully immersing myself in another culture in a location far from home forced me to learn how to modify behaviors and patterns that I was accustomed to living in the United States. It helped me to fully understand what is meant by the term cultural norms and how they impact daily interactions and behaviors.”

Students at WMU can choose from over 90 study abroad programs offered in countries all over the world. To learn more about Studying Abroad at WMU, including fast facts and to view student blog posts, visit wmich.edu/studyabroad.

Learn more about the Mesara Family Foundation at mesarafamilyfoundation.org/.