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Offices for Study Abroad, Special Needs Team Up to Present Research

CANTON — Two St. Lawrence University administrators had the opportunity to present their research findings during the 8th International Conference Higher Education and Disability in Innsbruck, Austria.

Allison Busser, assistant director of Academic Services for Student with Special Needs, and Andrew Pynchon, assistant director of Off-Campus Programs, were interested to know how students with disabilities compared to the rest of the student body when it came to percentages who study abroad.

So, they received approval from the University’s Institutional Research Board and surveyed students about their study abroad experiences. What they learned is that students with disabilities typically study abroad less than entire student body.

“Overall at St. Lawrence, we have a high percentage of students who study abroad,” Busser said. “But, there is definitely a gap when we look at students with disabilities.

Busser and Pynchon submitted their research to conference organizers and were invited to present their findings. Their presentation, titled “Collaborating offices: Finding ways to gain access and best support students with disabilities participating in study abroad programs,” focused on how the two St. Lawrence University departments collaborated to better prepare students with disabilities for their study abroad experience both academically and culturally.

“It didn’t seem like we were doing anything all that unique,” Busser said. “But after we presented, people kept coming up and talking to us. We even went to dinner with people from schools all over the world, and they kept asking us about our presentation. It was a real confidence booster.”

Both Busser and Pynchon believe that some students with disabilities may believe that a studying abroad might not be feasible for them. However, the two are working together to identify accommodative services at partner institutions and to make students realize that studying abroad is definitely within their reach.

“Studying off-campus is a wonderful opportunity that can be incredibly formative for students both academically, and personally," Pynchon said. "Staff in our offices came together to make sure that as many students as possible are able not only to take advantage of this opportunity, but to thrive at their program site.”

The conference, which was held in July, was organized by the University of New Orleans and the University of Innsbruck in Austria.

For more information on services available to students with disabilities, visit the Office of Academic Services for Students with Special Needs at
www.stlawu.edu/special-needs

For more information on studying abroad, visit the Office of International and Intercultural Studies at www.stlawu.edu/clis.