On May 15th, 2023, Zachary Nowak, Jacopo Bernardini, Manuel Barbato, and Amanda Fontana, all of The Umbra Institute, presented at the Roundtable Session on Education and Social Change hosted by the School for International Training. The roundtable conference, organized as a launch event for SIT’s new Journal of Critical Global Issues, took place virtually across three days. The Roundtable was a forum for the Umbra team to present their findings on assessing community-engaged learning at the Institute and explain how it positively impacts the students’ openness to diversity and universality. In addition to their panel, the Umbra team was joined on the panel by two other international education professionals. In their presentations, the other panelists explored the power dynamics within COIL programs and internationalization policies within higher education in the United States. It was a wonderful opportunity for members of the Umbra staff to engage with other scholars and professionals in the field to examine the future of international education.
In their session, the Umbra presenters discussed the research they are conducting to assess how the experience at The Umbra Institute changes students in measurable ways. The latest part of this ongoing project was the attempt to evaluate whether community engagement, in both students’ free time and as part of their coursework, has aided in the growth of students during their time abroad. Community engagement has long been a central pedagogical pillar of the Umbra Institute and is well-integrated into academic and extracurricular offerings. Although the Institute recognizes the importance of community-engaged learning, it is also important for the empirical data collected in this research to demonstrate which facets of the student experience play the greatest role in the students’ growth. Courses with service-learning components, Seminar and Practica courses, volunteering, spending time with local people and university students, and placing importance on learning Italian are some of the most influential aspects of student life that have a positive influence on expanding one’s openness to diversity and obtaining a more culturally-rich experience while in Italy. This research is part of an ongoing study that will be carried out and updated in future semesters. However, the current findings will be published in an upcoming academic publication. Stay tuned!