“To study abroad is something that leverages us in a way that most other types of learning just doesn’t do.” — Dr. Geoff Bradshaw, Madison College

Hong Rost Leadership Award winner, Dr. Geoff Bradshaw has overseen international education at Madison College for the past several years and has been an integral part in the school’s global reach. Dr. Bradshaw’s work on the Community College Sustainable Development Network (CCSDN), has helped make Madison College one of the most prominent international Community Colleges in the world.

In 2016 Geoff received the Hong Rost award 🏆, which is an annual award presented to an outstanding professional in the state of Wisconsin who embodies the dedication and passion in international education.

In this interview we discuss Geoff’s role with CCSDN, why community college students don’t study abroad as much as those at traditional 4 year institutions, and the value of service learning.

“Life’s a book, and those who don’t travel only read one page.” — St. Augustine

Dr. Bradshaw’s book recommendations:

Things Fall Apart by China Achebe
The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver
In a Sunburned Country by Bill Bryson

Full Interview Transcript

Chris: All right. Welcome everyone to an episode of the Study Abroadcast. I am at Madison College right now with Dr. Geoff Bradshaw. Geoff, welcome to the Study Abroadcast. Thank you very much for being here. We really appreciate it, as we do all our guests. How are you doing today?

Geoff: I’m doing well. Thank you.

Chris: Good? Good day today?

Geoff: Yeah.

Chris: All right. Well, Geoff, why don’t you go ahead and tell them what your title is and your background? Madison College is a community college, guys. About 45% of all undergraduate students are at community college. So, listen up. All right.

Geoff: I’m the Director of International Education at Madison College or Madison Area Technical College, here in Madison, Wisconsin. We’re a large community in technical college. There’s about close to 40,000 students who take at least a class from us each year. And the Center for International Education works with study abroad programs as well as the incoming international students and internationalization of the curriculum.

I’ve been into college now for a long time, but since 1997 – and originally came to the college doing multicultural work after I’d finished a PhD in cultural anthropology, and expected it to be something temporary while I moved on to teaching anthropology as a full-time career path. And at the time, the college had no international programs. And at the same time, I’ve received a grant to go to South Africa and work with the people working with NGOs and human rights work.

And when I came back from that project the college said, “We really need some help coordinating some of these international programs. Do you want a 20% assignment for that?” So I started out as a 20% assignment and then a 50% assignment and then a one-person office. And now there’s four other staff in the Center for International Education and we’re really becoming something of a national model for community college internationalization.

Chris: Wow! Busy-bee.

Geoff: But some of that I think really parallels what happen nationally with community colleges, so some of it is just really in the right place at the right time as part of that transition. And so, especially 15 years ago most community colleges didn’t have a strong international program. And part of it was mission-focused. So colleges were focused on providing people with either the job skills for employment in that local district and most of those jobs weren’t particularly international at that time, for preparing people to transfer on to a four-year education and the assumption was you could do those global studies in your junior and senior years and you didn’t need to do that in your general education courses in your first two years.

And that landscape has really changed in the last 10 years nationally, especially in the last five years almost every community college has some kind of international program. And it comes again from both directions. So those local jobs aren’t just local anymore. Even if people never plan to leave our district, the customers they work with, the co-workers they work with, the suppliers they work with are all globally diverse and the employers are expecting people to have global competencies as part of their employment even if they only have a two-year degree.

And for people who transfer, if you’re going to major in international studies or in foreign language or other kinds of subjects like that, you really need to begin that educational path earlier than your junior or senior year in order to accomplish those goals. So the transfer institutions are expecting that as well. And so the whole landscape around community colleges has really grown its focus around internationalization.

Chris: Wow. So, you quite literally have been a trendsetter in these areas, technical colleges. I remember what you touched on about kids thinking they come here for two years and then they transfer right after the ones that are full-time undergraduates, the younger ones. And that’s not necessarily the case anymore where they can just stay here the whole time. A lot of them do. Is that right?

Geoff: Well, again, you have a mix of things. So we still a lot of students who come to us for two years and they transfer to another institution. We also receive a lot of people who already have a bachelor’s degree, who come back to a community college to get a specific skill set related to their field of studies that’ll combine a bachelor’s degree with a community college degree so it becomes the new master’s degree and things. And in all those levels people are looking for opportunities to build their intercultural communication skills, to build their knowledge about other countries, to interact with people from other parts of the world, and that’s what we try and do here at the Center for International Education.

Chris: Not as many people study abroad at community colleges as they do at other four-year institutions. I think the reason is that they just don’t know about it. Financially, I know it’s tough either way whether you’re at a four-year or here. But what do you think what are their fears and doubts? Why aren’t more kids doing it? Why wouldn’t you go abroad for a semester or summer or something?

Geoff: I think there’s several reasons that community college students don’t study abroad at the same rates that they do at other bachelor’s degree or other institutions. And so as you indicated, some just don’t think of that as something that’s part of the scope of what they’ll have at the colleges and it comes from that history of community colleges being focused on education for the local community and not having traditionally been part of what was offered as a part of community colleges. That’s just not on students’ radar. So, part of our role is just to get out there and make students aware this is an opportunity for you.

I think a lot of community colleges are also really built around access as a mission. And so we’re often the first point for higher ed for people who are first-generation students and there are people who haven’t had other access to higher education, and so their families, others, there hasn’t been a culture of study abroad. So the whole concept to study abroad is, “Well, that’s not for me. That’s for wealthy students.” That’s for other students that they didn’t think about, and so breaking down at some of those kinds of barriers.

And then, thirdly, there’s cost questions. People think, “Well, this is going to be too expensive.” And there’s a couple different answers I have to the cost question, usually. So, one, some of our semester programs are cheaper to go abroad than they are to live in Madison, so unless you’re already living with your parents and all of those costs are paid for, if you’re paying for housing in Madison and going to school here, our program in Xi’an, China, is cheaper even including the airfare to spend a whole semester there than it is to spend here. But people don’t think about their calculating costs.

Chris: That’s a common thread. People assume that you’re going abroad and you’re living in a penthouse and eating caviar every night. It’s not. You still have to pay for rent. You still have to eat food.

Geoff: Yeah, no matter where you are going to do that and cost of living is often much cheaper in other parts of the world. I’m thinking about those experiences. There are also a number of scholarship programs. So, especially people who really are financially needy, people who are Pell Grant eligible and receiving federal financial aid to go to college, the federal government has put money into the Gilman Scholarship and other scholarships to really try and encourage those students who haven’t thought about that to study abroad. So, a lot of times students aren’t aware that there’s quite a bit of money available, specifically those students who really are needy.

The other group of students we often have are people who have family responsibilities, other kinds of more complicated lives. And so getting away for a full semester may not be a reality for them. They may have to care for an elderly parent. They may be parents themselves. They may have other work that they can’t get away from. So what we’ve done is a lot of effort to build short-term, high-value experiential learning programs so that students can go for 10 days or two weeks and still have an international experience that might be linked to a longer class here on campus, to at least give those exposure opportunities as well as then longer four-week type programs and full semester opportunities as well but to try and create that portfolio of opportunities for students.

Chris: So that’s a really good point about how a lot of them have other responsibilities. I wrote about go to Canada for two weeks in the summer or a month and just to say you studied abroad. Just do something to get out there and put it on your resume, I think.

Geoff: Well, a lot of them built a number of programs doing short-term service learning programs in Central America, and the Caribbean is one of the places we’ve done a lot of specialization in. And some of those opportunities are really eye-opening opportunities for people to really learn about another culture, to really understand global income inequalities, to think about things like how they apply hands-on skills like renewable energy, nursing, or construction abroad while they’re there. They’re in the same time zone, the flights are much more expensive than the art of flying domestically to places on either coast in the United States.

Chris: Yeah, so you touched on something there and this is a community college. Is it a technical school?

Geoff: Yeah, a technical and community college.

Chris: The community college students, do they go to host school then? How does that work? Do you go to other community college host schools? How does that work done?

Geoff: Again, we have set this broad portfolio of opportunities. So there’s about 25 different study abroad options to choose from here at Madison College and those range from partner institutions abroad, host schools, which may be a community college or it may be some other type of institution that hosts students that we have articulated with.

And then those shorter-term programs that I was just talking about, there are faculty-led programs and so those may not have a partner institution abroad but rather it’s a faculty member from our college who talks about how are we apply the skills that we’re learning here to this environment abroad. Especially the short-term, two-week, 10-day kinds of programs tend to be what we call short-term faculty led programs in the field.

Chris: Yeah. So branching off that, there are majors and there are things here that you do that they’re cool. You guys work on cars. You build stuff. You work with metal and wood and all that. Now are there programs that could I go apprentice at a car factory in Germany? Is that something that you can work into to tailor your craft and go learn from the best? Fashion design, all this stuff in Europe. I know they do wood and I think beef and wine in South America. Is there anything you can play up with that?

Geoff: Exactly. One of the things that we really try to do is put a real emphasis on providing access and opportunity for study abroad in those career fields. How do we build career-relevant experiences that are really going to allow people to apply what they’re learning here and studying and provide a resume line that’s really directly related to those experiences, that’s to say “I practiced these skills abroad in these areas.”

And so the college has over 150-degree programs and so almost any sector of employment of the college, we offer some kind of credential and we’ve been growing those. So, whether it’s culinary programs going to Europe and looking at cuisine, to nursing programs looking at rural Jamaica, to construction programs that are doing sustainable construction in Costa Rica, renewable energy programs that are wiring solar panels. We’ve tried to look at how can we grow programs that are directly related to those skill sets, and at this point we have one for every community college.

Chris: No, you have 150 of them.

Geoff: 150 of them.

Chris: But the fact that you’re doing it, I think that alone separate, that’s better than what the bigger schools are doing, the four-year ones. Just to go in and just learn your craft and apprentice from someone and then learn through osmosis. I think that’s terrific that you guys are doing that. So changing gears. From your own travels, can you share an epic travel story or something you can tell at a dinner party?

Geoff: Let’s see. I don’t know if it’s necessarily a dinner party epic travel story.

Chris: It can be funny. It can be anything you want. I originally had it worded as funny and then I realized I’m eliminating half the stories. But any kind of story, anything you’d like to tell.

Geoff: For me, some of the most powerful experiences related to travel, especially travel that was related to the work that I do here, has been around these service learning programs in Central America and the Caribbean. And so, when we were working in rural Costa Rica putting solar panels on lights of people’s homes, these are people who are either too poor or too remote to connect to the electrical grid. So they never had a light switch in their home at all. They’re either using candles or kerosene, especially with the equator there it gets dark about six o’clock year-round. It isn’t like you have 9 o’clock, 10 o’clock summers like we have in the North.

And to see the expression on their face, the first time they flip that light switch on and just see the students having been part of those kinds of things, we really see that transformation in their lives. And for students who never experience a place where people wouldn’t have electricity or those kinds of things, those were some really epic, in their own way kind of experiences that I’ve been able to have by working with these kinds of programs.

Chris: Just being able to see them light up. The people, not the lights.

Geoff: The beaming on their faces, see them light up and their sense of pride to have been selected as somebody respected from the community because the way these worked was the local community selected who should receive this kind of thing. Often it was elders in the community or people who respected in different ways or people who work with traditional healing, other things, were often the homes that were selected where we’re working to do these kinds of installations. And to have those kinds of opportunities where you could transcend those language barriers and really have these heartfelt experiences where you felt like you were making a difference in people’s lives and they were really appreciating you being a part of that.

Chris: Oh, my God. I can’t even imagine to see that, yeah. That’s something that sticks with you. Well, now I know why you told us that story. It’s as a good one. I can’t believe all that stuff you’ve done here at Madison College. Would I be too ambitious to ask what’s next or what do you have on the horizon? Do you have anything in the pipeline that you’re working on? You’ve already done so much. I don’t know.

Geoff: Well, I think we’re always growing and always working on different kinds of things here and you really have to be in the field. One of the biggest things that we did in the last few years is that after being able to grow some of the programs at Madison College, we were looking at what were the challenges that kept other community colleges for doing the similar kind of work. And so, in 2010, when we received the Department of State grant for capacity building in study abroad, and what we did with that project is we looked out to other community colleges, that how can we grow access and opportunity especially around these faculty-led service learning programs. And we created something called the Community College Sustainable Development Network, CCSDN.

CCSDN was this network that did a couple of things. And so, one, we had faculty from other community colleges – 24 of them in all sent their faculty on our program so that they could see some of these programs in action and experience some of the things like the story I was just telling about the renewable energy and lights and those kind of service programs. And then we started doing workshops on nuts and bolts of how do you build study abroad, what is the risk management that needs to go into that? What kind of insurance do you need?

Chris: So, just really building it from the group-up.

Geoff: So many schools that don’t have that or some of the smaller community colleges that don’t have any kind of office for this, they might just have a faculty member who has maybe a course release from their normal load to try and grow some of these programs, how can we help them get the skills they need to leverage those. And then the third piece was then working together with those colleges to team-run study abroad programs.

And so there were 18 different programs that were launched out of that, mostly in Central America and the Caribbean to do all sorts of different programs from agriculture to criminal justice, all sorts of different themes. And each of those had two or three colleges working together to have enough students, to have a cohort, to make that a successful program. And what we’re looking at now is to think about how do we continue to do that program and really be a national trainer to help other colleges get to the place that we’re at now? How we can we scale that and provide those, share those training resources that we were able to develop with others.

Chris: Wow. So you built a playbook, gave the other guys the playbook, and now you’re trying to build it, tell each other, “Well, here, this worked here, this didn’t work there.” That’s phenomenal.

Geoff: Correct. And I’m a big believer in leveraging collaboration and working in. So this is a field where it doesn’t make any sense to try and invent a program and run it by yourself. If you can leverage lots of other people who can work together with that, you can sport each other, you have bigger numbers to work with to be able to run programs in niche fields that you might not be able to sustain on your own campus. And especially around when you’re talking about health and safety of students, we want everybody to be safe and so if that happens at any school and it has impacts on everyone, so you want to give everyone resources to build this quality programs as possible.

Chris: Wow. I’m blown away, really. We’ve got to start making some noise about this. We’ve to start buzzing a little and get the word out here. You’re ready for some rapid fire questions, Geoff? A book that you recommend, what would you recommend?

Geoff: So there’s two different tracks when people ask me about travel books. On one hand, I’m a big fan of cultural historical fictions. So things that allow you to dive into another culture through those. So Chinua Achebe’s classic book on Africa of Things Fall Apart, which is a book that talks about colonialism in Africa or an American author on the same theme, Barbara Kingsolver. She had The Lacuna or the Poisonwood Bible or a couple of things.

For a non-fiction book, I’m a fan of Bill Bryson as a travel writer. He’s not an academic. He’s a travel writer. His book on Australia, I think it’s called A Sunburned Country. He’s just a humorous writer but he brings in all insights where there’s talking about the historical impact on the aboriginal indigenous population and Australia to drinking in a pub. He’ll weave all those things together in a funny travel writer’s way.

Chris: Yeah. I’ve got to check him out, Bill Bryson. And then Barbara Kingsolver?

Geoff: Barbara Kingsolver.

Chris: What was the first one?

Geoff: Chinua Achebe.

Chris: I’ll link these up. So where did you say you’re from, again?

Geoff: I’m originally from the Midwest. So I’ve lived in Minnesota and Wisconsin.

Chris: So what’s your favorite dish from back home?

Geoff: When I’m abroad and people ask me about that, my take is typically cornbread. Because it’s this Midwestern food with anything, you can make with cheese, you can add up with lots of different things. It’s not really a main dish, but it’s my go-to if I want to bring something to a potluck.

Chris: I’m not just panting to you as I’m interviewing but I haven’t had cornbread in forever and now I really want some. The Isthmus Food Cart Festival is this weekend actually. So maybe we can check that out. So when you’re abroad, is there anything that blew you away when you were in abroad? Anything?

Geoff: I’m just a big fan of experiencing the variety of foods abroad. And so I really like Indian food and Indonesian food. They have a specific dish per se that I really like. Somebody once told me that good Indian food brings you through at least five different senses of sweet, salty, sour – the complexity of all of those things together in one dish. And so, once they said that I’d been thinking about it from that perspective when I sit down for that kind of food.

Chris: I’m talking about here in the States. But the lunch buffets that they have at Indian restaurants are just…

Geoff: It gives you an opportunity to savor lots of different things too on that buffet.

Chris: I know. If you walk into a bar, what are you going to order?

Geoff: A craft beer.

Chris: Craft beer. And if you could have dinner with one living person, who would it be and why?

Geoff: That’s a hard question. But I would probably say Muhammad Yunus. He was a Nobel Peace Prize winner and founder of Grameen Bank. He was really the person who created microcredit as a philosophy. And so he’s from Bangladesh and it was probably the early ‘90s maybe or in the late ‘80s when he founded that. But that whole model now has taken off worldwide with this whole idea of having microloans so that you can have a small chunk of money, give it to somebody in the community when they’re successful and get started up with some entrepreneurship and that money comes back to other people in the community. And just seeing that and thinking about how he could scale that in different things, I’d love to have a conversation.

Chris: Just to get into his mind. That’s definitely a thing. I have a friend from school do that. He ran a pretty successful business, not he gave back but it worked, to say the least. You’re at your happiest when you’re doing what? Hobby, anything?

Geoff: Besides traveling and experiencing new places, one of the things that is most rewarding for me is watching students be transformed and succeed. Watching students who might have been in their shell and come back from the study abroad experience, just wide-eyed and eager to embrace the diversity of the world, and that’s the stuff that keeps me in this work.

Chris: Yeah. No, I know what you’re talking about. I get it. Yeah.

Geoff: Yeah, just that achievement and growth and all of those kinds of things and watching them open up and grow and mature as people. And I think to study abroad is one of the things that leverages those in a way that most other types of learning just doesn’t do. And so you can sometimes see that in students in ways that a classroom instructor maybe only sees in small incremental pieces. And a study abroad experience opens up, transforms whole worlds for people sometimes.

Chris: And you’re definitely in the right place to be doing that too. So, your job makes you happy. Most people can’t say that. And finally, do you have a quote that you’d like to leave us with? Anything?

Geoff: The quote I like comes from a monk, Saint Augustine. “Life is a book and if you don’t travel, you’re really stuck on one page.”

Chris: Yup. I’m familiar with that quote. It’s a good one. I like that. All right, Geoff, is there anything else you want to add? Any other advice?

Geoff: I would just say for anybody who isn’t sure about study abroad or just hadn’t thought about that, that it’s really something, one of the most powerful things to do in your educational experience, and that aside from the challenges of cost or time commitment or other kinds of things like that, that I encourage people to just really look at it and make it a goal or a priority, and think about the career impacts to be able to have global competencies but also just the ability to interact with other people and grow as an individual, is something that is priceless, really. And if you want it enough, come and work with our offices, work with other people and we can create a long-term plan for how you’re going to get there, even if it doesn’t seem very possible right now.

Chris: Right. Yeah, that’s what my first 10 at University of Wisconsin, Whitewater, is done. How much? It’s priceless. The experience is priceless.

So, all right, well thank you very much, Geoff. Guys, thanks for tuning in. Be sure to stay tuned. There will be plenty more podcasts coming up and have a good day. All right, thanks.

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