David Di Maria, UMBC’s new associate vice provost for International Education, debunks common study abroad myths

When David Di Maria traveled to Estonia for the first time as an undergraduate, he never imagined that he would go on to explore over forty countries, or that his career would center on international learning experiences.

Di Maria is UMBC’s new associate vice provost for International Education. He comes to UMBC after serving nearly three years as the associate provost for international programs at Montana State University, Bozeman. Prior to that, Di Maria was the director of international programs and services at Kent State University.

As a leader in the international education field, Di Maria serves on the executive committee of the Commission on International Initiatives for the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) and in leadership roles with the Association of International Education Administrators (AIEA) and NAFSA: Association of International Educators.

In his new role as the head of the international education at UMBC Di Maria is excited to expand the university’s global footprint as an international research institution. By growing the UMBC’s network of global partnerships, he hopes to increase student’s study abroad and research opportunities and faculty-led international courses and partnerships.

This effort also includes growing opportunities for international students, lecturers, researchers, and faculty members, and welcoming sister city partners to UMBC like Ho Park, Ambassador for International Relations from Maryland’s new sister state Jeollanam-do Province of South Korea. UMBC President Freeman Hrabowski met with Ambassador Park on January 31, to discuss a partnership to foster collaboration between UMBC and South Korea.

 

UMBC President Freeman Hrabowski discusses a partnership to foster collaboration between UMBC and South Korea with Ambassador Ho Park, joined by Brittany Suh and Sumi Kim (right), as well as Antonio Moreira, vice provost for Academic Affairs and David Di Maria (left).

 

“The goal is that UMBC students are prepared and engaged to understand the international dimensions of their academic disciplines,” says Di Maria.

“For many students in the humanities, social sciences, and arts, study abroad is an essential, life-changing part of a college education,” says Scott Casper, dean of the College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Science (CAHSS). We are fortunate to welcome a leader with Dr. Di Maria’s wealth and breadth of experience in encouraging and facilitating our students’ endeavors.”

“The trend in research today is interdisciplinary, international, and team-based,” says Bill LaCourse, dean of the College of Natural and Mathematical Sciences (CNMS). “Global experience is of significant value for CNMS students to compete and lead in projects that focus on scientific and societal issues, which transcend physical borders and cultures.”

In the last academic year, 262 students across UMBC chose to deepen their studies in over 30 counties. Among those were eight UMBC students named Fulbright fellows in 2016-17. Six are currently teaching English in Colombia, Mexico, Malaysia, Ukraine, and Bulgaria. Two students are conducting international researchone creating 3D digital models of Viking Age ship rituals at the Viking Museum in Oslo, Norway, and the other conducting physics research at RWTH Aachen University in Germany. 

UMBC is also home to hundreds of international students from around the globe. In the current spring semester alone, UMBC welcomed 60 new international students, from India, China, Pakistan, Hong Kong, the D.R. of Congo, Peru, South Korea, Taiwan, Bangladesh, Iran, Brazil, Saudi Arabia, and Nigeria.

 

Spring 2018 international student orientation.

 

Di Maria’s initial focus is on developing a strategic plan to strengthen and articulate UMBC’s global reputation as a world-class research institution. For universities, internationalization can involve many different kinds of experiences and relationships, he points out, from supporting UMBC students in studying abroad to offering intercultural experiences on campus and bringing international students and faculty to UMBC. “It is also about creating direct connections to research opportunities,” Di Maria says, “because the greatest challenges are global and to solve those researchers need to have diverse perspectives from an international standpoint.”

“UMBC’s Grand Challenge Scholars Program is a great example of how students across disciplines and from all backgrounds can collaborate and learn from each other to address a range of challenges facing our world,” points out Keith J. Bowman, dean of the College of Engineering and Information Technology (COEIT). “There are tremendous benefits to having teams that include people with broad experiences, and I encourage UMBC students from all majors to consider how they can elevate their future accomplishments by improving their global perspectives.”

Even as Di Maria works with university leaders from around the globe to expand students’ international learning opportunities, he knows that supporting students in study abroad often starts with dispelling preconceptions—that it might be too expensive or might not fit into their college plan. He offers these answers to a few common concerns:

Question: Is study abroad always expensive?

Answer: UMBC offers a broad range of study abroad programs that the cost less or the same as studying on campus. There are also scholarships available to UMBC students who are interested in study abroad, ranging from a few hundred dollars to the full cost of the program. Students who participate in study abroad programs led by UMBC faculty during the winter and summer terms can benefit from having up to three credits of their tuition waived. Because these programs typically last only two weeks, students can participate without having to give up their jobs or apartment leases.

Question: Is study abroad just for certain majors?

Answer: All students can benefit from international learning and many describe study abroad as their most impactful college experience. While foreign language majors certainly can be a good fit for study abroad, in reality, a quarter of students studying abroad have STEM majors while just ten percent are majoring in a foreign language. UMBC offers many study abroad programs entirely in English, as well as those in other languages.

Question: Will studying abroad get me off-track academically?

Fact: Studies actually indicate that students who study abroad are more likely to graduate than students who do not, and also tend to graduate with a higher GPA.

Question: How will study abroad impact my career?

Fact: When recruiting for open positions, employers value study abroad. This is particularly the case for employers who earn more than 25 percent of their annual revenue through international sales. According to a 2009 study in International Education, 75 percent of study abroad alumni indicate that study abroad helped their career. Nationally, study abroad alumni have a lower unemployment rate five years after graduation than those who have not studied abroad and the International Education Service notes that 90 percent of study abroad alumni earned admission into their first- or second-choice graduate or professional school.

Question: Where can I study, and is it dangerous to travel abroad?

Fact: UMBC offers programs around the globe. While it is very popular for students from the United States to study in Europe, the percentage of U.S. students studying in Asia and Latin American has increased over the past decade.  The university works with the U.S. Department of State, global insurance companies, and international partners to closely monitor health, safety, and security risks abroad, to make sure students are well-prepared and supported for their international learning experiences.

Students interested in learning more can attend one of several upcoming study abroad events:

International Student Career Conference: Friday, February 2, 9:45-4 p.m. in UC 312

ISEP, UMBC’s newest study abroad opportunity: February 2, 2018, 2:30-3 p.m. in Commons 318

Study Abroad Fair: February 9, 2018, 11 a.m.-2 p.m. in Commons Mainstreet

Summer Study Abroad for Biology Majors, UMBC Summer Faculty-Led Program: Spain Info Session, February 9, 2018, noon – 1 p.m. in Biological Sciences 487

Passport Caravan: February 23, 2018, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Sign-up is required

Weekly information sessions: Study Abroad 101 on Mondays at noon and Thursdays at 3 p.m. The next sessions will be Monday, January 29, in Administration 529; Thursday, February 1, in Administration 611; Monday, February 5, in Administration 611; and Thursday, February 8, in Administration 611.

Faculty information sessions are coming soon.

 

All Images by Marlayna Demond ’11 for UMBC.