Out-of-state to out of the classroom


While the normal college freshman experience usually includes learning one’s way around campus and meeting new people, the experience for 95 students this summer also included a trip to Panama or the Florida Keys. 

USF’s month-long summer Academic and Cultural Engagement (ACE) program is an opportunity for 100 out-of-state First Time In College (FTIC) students to enroll during the fall at USF instead of having to wait to reapply in the spring. Students who were eligible for the ACE program had to enroll to be admitted and received a notification of their conditional admittance with their acceptance letter.

During the program, which ran from July 15 to Aug. 16, students chose six credit hours of classes and spent three weeks taking them on campus before finishing them during a week-long study abroad trip. The courses these students chose determined their study aboard destination, and those who were in the first implementation of USF’s ACE program traveled to Panama and the Florida Keys this summer.

Owen Hooper, the program’s coordinator and assistant director of summer and alternative calendar programs at USF Innovative Education, said the program was created as a solution to the university’s low retention rate of out-of-state FTIC college students and to help out-of-state students better acclimate to USF.

“Many out-of-state students don’t graduate high school at a conducive time for being able to come in during Summer B,” Hooper said. “With the Global Citizens Project being the new Quality Enhancement Plan for the university, it was a great opportunity to add a study abroad component to the program so students are getting started here at USF with a foot in the door.”

He said the Florida Keys were chosen as a study abroad destination partly due to the management of the Keys Marine Lab by the Florida Institute of Oceanography, a consortium under the State University System. Students spent part of the day on a boat rented from the marine lab where they had class, and then spent the rest of the day snorkeling. Students also visited the Key West home of author and journalist Ernest Hemingway.

Because students who traveled to the Florida Keys chose classes with a focus on mass communication, Hooper said they were also able to visit the Jordan Zimmerman ad agency in Fort Lauderdale where they met employees from the agency and received a presentation from Zimmerman. These students also took trips to TV stations and ad agencies in Ybor while living on campus during the first three weeks.

Hooper said Panama was chosen as a study abroad destination because the USF Health & Education International Foundation campus is located within Panama’s “Ciudad del Saber” or “City of Knowledge” — a government-sponsored collection of academic and international organizations. 

The City of Knowledge is built on what was once Fort Clayton, an old U.S. Army base overlooking the Panama Canal, now repurposed for education and complete with classrooms, offices and residential housing.

Hooper said this made for a convenient campus away from campus, and students who traveled to Panama visited numerous locations on either coast of the country, including Biomuseo, a colorful biodiversity museum in Panama; Panamá Viejo, the first permanent European settlement on the Pacific ocean and former capital of Panama; Casco Viejo, the historic district of Panama City; the Panama Canal and the city of Portobelo in Panama.

Because students who went to Panama chose classes with a focus on anthropology and humanities, Hooper said they visited the Embera indigenous community in Panama to learn more about the tribe’s culture and way of life. Students also completed a service-learning project with local students in Casco Viejo where both groups created paintings for the other in a student art exchange.

David Myers, a freshman from Chicago majoring in international business, said he enrolled in the ACE program because he did not want to apply to USF again in the spring. Myers said while he did not know much about it at first, he is now happy he enrolled.

“When I first heard about it, the (ACE program) website was non-existent, so I had to take a shot in the dark,” he said. “It was one of the best experiences I think any freshman could have to start off their year.”

Myers said he went to Panama for his study abroad trip, and he said there was not much free time, as his group was always on the move visiting new locations throughout the country. He said while he visited museums, a marketplace and met a lot of locals in Panama, one of the best times he had was much closer to home.

“One weekend my suitemates and I and a couple other people went to Clearwater Beach. We all got to bond really close together, and it was something I’ll never forget,” Myers said. “That’s what the ACE program is for me — meeting good friends going into the fall term that I still keep in good contact with.”

Alejandra Ortiz-Marcano, a freshman majoring in marketing, said she, like Myers, did not want to wait to reapply to USF in the spring and went to Panama as well. She said even though she was only there a week, she felt like she learned more about the country than she ever could in school.

“My overall experience in Panama was amazing,” Ortiz-Marcano said. “It was definitely not what I expected from Panama. It was a lot of tourism, we visited a lot of museums, and … I think it was a good way to submerge in the culture.”

She said the program had the added benefit of allowing her to build early relationships at USF, and she said she would have had a different relationship with the university had she not enrolled in the ACE program.

“One (faculty member) who was working for the ACE Program is also a business advisor, so now whenever I have questions about my degree, I go to her,” Ortiz-Marcano said.

Hooper said he is on a research committee for the North American Association of Summer Sessions, an organization for developing summer session standards and programs, and he said the program is the first of its kind. He said the ACE program is a partnership between Innovative Education and the Office of Student Success, and the College of Arts and Sciences worked to develop course curriculum and select instructors for the study abroad courses.

“To my knowledge, there is no university that’s doing a program in which classes start on campus for new incoming students and then finish with an education abroad experience,” he said.

The USF ACE website estimated the cost of the program’s tuition and fees at $3,450.06 and the study abroad experience at $2,100. These costs do not include on-campus housing and dining, and students can receive financial aid for the ACE program.