For the first time, UCCS offered incoming first-year students an opportunity to have an international experience before they started class this fall.
Twelve pre-first year students traveled to Costa Rica this July as part of a three-credit First-Year Global Leadership course. The eight-day program allowed students to participate in community service and learn about international diplomacy, the arts, social change, sustainability and eco-tourism.
Students interacted with local peoples, learned directly from non-profit and governmental agencies, listened to community members about their lived experiences and participated in cultural activities that helped highlight the unique culture of Costa Rica. Coursework also covered the impact of arts on community development.
According to first-year Gabe Ocel, one of the trip’s participants, “We got to experience the culture of Costa Rica and go more in-depth into how the people live and what they normally do during their day-to-day lives.”
He continued, “It was an incredible experience that allowed me to meet new people going into college so that I wouldn’t be completely alone as a first year. I would strongly advise all incoming freshman to partake in something like this if they can.”
And as students learned about global and local issues affecting Costa Rica, they were encouraged to reflect on what will be important to them as future leaders.
According to director of international affairs and assistant professor of languages and cultures, Mandy Hansen, who designed and taught the course, “This class and experience abroad was a safe space for students to find their voice and explore what is important to them while also learning about a new culture. The goal was to help students learn more about themselves and their interests so they can return to their local communities and give back as young leaders.”
The program is among recent efforts to create transformative experiences for students that foster inclusivity, academic excellence and a sense of life-long learning.
According to vice chancellor for student success Sentwali Bakari, “We believe this program has the potential to help students develop a sense of belonging” within the UCCS community. “It encourages engagement, and enhances overall persistence and graduation here at UCCS.”
“The people that I had the opportunity to meet are now some of my closest friends,” he says, “and we still hang out almost daily.”
“A quote I remember greatly from this trip is ‘Enjoy the little things in life, because one day you may look back on them and realize that they were the biggest.’”