Solutions in Action: Highlights from the 17th Annual Conference

The Forum on Education Abroad had the pleasure of welcoming nearly 600 education abroad changemakers from across the globe to the 17th Annual Conference, which was held virtually on March 1-5, 2021.

With a theme of “Evolution and Revolution: Solutions in Action,” this year’s conference highlighted the challenges that the field of education abroad has faced due to the global pandemic and the elevated importance of our work while facilitating impactful discussions to drive the field forward.

Over the new five-day virtual format, conference attendees chose from 60 sessions that explored 10 key focus areas:

  • Ethics & Ethical Partnerships
  • Equity, Diversity & Inclusion
  • Health, Safety & Well-Being
  • Mission, Goals, Strategy & Advocacy
  • Professional Development & Training
  • Program Development & Management
  • Research & Data Collection
  • Student Learning & Development
  • Sustainability
  • Technology

And, even in these challenging times, we took time to recognize the 20th anniversary of The Forum’s founding, and all that we’ve learned over the past two decades while looking forward to the future.

Identity: A Key Theme of the Opening & Closing Plenaries

Inaugural poet and author Richard Blanco delivered an inspiring Annual Conference Opening Plenary, exploring the question: “What is home?” Selected by President Obama as the fifth inaugural poet in U.S. history, Richard is the first Latino, immigrant, and gay person to serve in the role.

He shared stories and read his poetry that explore his cultural and national identity as an immigrant, his mother’s journey from Cuba to America, and his personal journey of figuring out what it means to be an American.

“My life has been a study abroad program because I always looked at America like a foreign land,” Richard said. He advised international educators to encourage students to make connections with local people during their study abroad experiences. “The story is in the people,” Richard said. “That’s a real education. Have a chat, think about what their lives have been like. Connect with people as much as you can.”

Richard Blanco delivering his virtual Opening Plenary during The Forum's 17th Annual Conference


On Friday afternoon, Annual Conference Closing Plenary Speaker and Emerson College Professor Jerald Walker read from his essay, “We Are Americans,” from his memoir, Street Shadows: A Memoir of Race, Rebellion, and Redemption. The essay shares Jerald’s personal reflection on the complexity of living as a Black American in Zimbabwe.

During the Q&A session, Jerald shared his advice to students going abroad. “Write every day,” he said. “Write your thoughts, write your experiences, write your encounters. When you look back on those notes, you’ll really see how you grew from that experience.”

Jerald Walker reading from his memoir during the Closing Plenary session for The Forum's 17th Annual Conference


Reflecting & Forecasting on the Past & Future

In recognizing The Forum’s 20th anniversary, it’s important to reflect on our past, but also to spend time discussing and forecasting what the next five, 10, and 20 years may look like for the organization and the field of international education.

During Tuesday’s “Looking Back: A Conversation with Forum Trailblazers” session, Annual Conference attendees were able to learn about the founding of The Forum and key moments in the organization’s history with the help of education abroad leaders William Cressey, Michael Delaney, Kathleen Sideli, Mary Dwyer, Michael Vande Berg, Michael Stohl, Bill Hoffa, Mark Scheid, Mary Anne Grant, Brian Whalen, and Jon Booth, who moderated the discussion.

The panel highlighted the creation of the five pillars, the development of the Standards of Good Practice, the recognition of the U.S. Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission as the Standards Development Organization in the field of education abroad, expansion of membership and influence outside of the United States, the creation of the Professional Certification in Education Abroad program, and much more. Read Mark Scheid’s words of wisdom for the next generation of education abroad professionals.

At the end of the session, Mary and Mary Anne were surprised with The Forum’s new Cornerstone Award in recognition of their outstanding leadership, vision, and service to The Forum.


Hard Work of Education Abroad Colleagues & Students Recognized

During the Awards Presentations, we celebrated the accomplishments of the recipients of three prestigious Forum Awards:

  • The late J. Scott Van Der Meid was named the 2021 recipient of the Peter A. Wollitzer Advocacy Award. Beloved colleagues and friends, like John Lucas, Kathleen Sideli, and others—including Scott’s husband—spoke of Scott’s contributions to the field during his 20+ years of service and his imprint on all who knew him.
  • James M. Lucas of Michigan State University received the Award for Excellence in Education Abroad Curriculum Design for “Great Ages Modern World,” a course developed and taught by Dr. Lucas. “Teaching and learning has always been at the heart of my work,” he said.
  • Mya Singleton (University of Virginia, nominated by IFE) and Calder Hollond (Pomona College, for work completed with SIT) presented their research that earned them the Award for Academic Achievement Abroad and participated in a live Q&A session. Mya’s research presentation was titled, “In Good Faith: The Absence of Informed Consent in the Retroactive Use of Biological Material in Pathological Research,” while Calder presented, “Infertility & Assisted Reproduction Legislation in Argentina.”

Student recipients of the Award for Academic Achievement Abroad answer questions from the audience after presenting their research at the The Forum's 17th Annual Conference


All week long, Annual Conference attendees had the chance to stop by the Poster Session at the virtual Exhibit Hall to check out the work of students nominated for The Forum’s Award for Academic Achievement Abroad. Featured students include: Molly Pinder (UC Berkeley), Saffron Sener (UC Berkeley), Grace Weissman (Middlebury College), Abigail Shepard-Moore (American University), Delaney Dammeyer (Elizabethtown College), Giovanni D’Ambrosio (UC Berkeley), Louise Curtis (UC Berkeley), and Morgan Galer & Amanda Hagedorn (Michigan State University). On Thursday’s “Student Showcase,” the students shared their projects during a poster session, where attendees were invited to view the students’ presentations and ask questions in real time about their study abroad experiences.

New Publications Announced

Throughout the week of the conference, several recently completed, new, and upcoming publications were announced, including:

Prioritizing Togetherness

Because connection is something that education abroad professionals have been missing this past year, the Forum offered opportunities for colleagues to mix and mingle or simply unwind. Examples of social and cultural virtual events included:

  • The Forum Book Club, which featured conversation about Richard Blanco’s plenary remarks, as well as an analysis and discussion of select poems from his 2019 collection, How to Love a Country.
  • A mid-day concert with Berklee College of Music student Zach Seals, who performed a set of dramatic indie pop ballads, original songs, and covers on Wednesday.
  • Team Trivia Night and networking on Thursday.
  • A highly interactive, two-part Wine & Art Tour of Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum
  • Community Connections and Language Lunchrooms to better get to know new international education colleagues.

Screenshot from the Isabella Steward Gardner Museum's Wine & Art Tour during The Forum's 17th Annual Conference


Special Thanks

The Forum thanks the Conference Committee, presenters, and attendees for their participation in the 17th Annual Conference.

Many thanks, as well, to all our conference sponsors (including Gold Sponsors Education in Ireland and IES Abroad) and exhibitors for their support of the Annual Conference.

We look forward to seeing everyone next year at our 18th Annual Conference on March 23-25, 2022, in Chicago in a hybrid conference format.


Post authored by Stephanie Mitchell King.