Katy Rene, Lehigh’s assistant director of study abroad, completed the Forum on Education Abroad's Professional Certification in Education Abroad, a voluntary demonstration of competency in the field, in fall 2022.

The Forum is an association of American and overseas colleges and independent study-abroad programs. According to the itss website, the professional certification is an opportunity for individuals in the education abroad field to expand their knowledge and become experts in the Standards of Good Practice for Education Abroad.

Rene has been in her role since 2016. She advises students in Lehigh’s College of Health, develops and supports faculty-led study abroad programs, manages the Lehigh Launch Ecuador first semester experience and serves as a member of the International Travel Advisory Committee and the on-call crisis response team. She sought out the professional certification program to learn ways that Lehigh’s study abroad programs can grow.

“It was an opportunity to do a deep dive into best practices in this field, to help inform the day to day decisions we make in the (Study Abroad) office,” Rene said.

The certification curriculum includes six modules based on the Standards of Good Practice and a final culminating project. Rene completed the program over a few years and attended live workshops on topics including program design, implementation and evaluation; health and safety; and student learning and development. Lehigh’s Office of International Affairs hosted one workshop for the certification, and Rene traveled to other campuses in the region to complete the rest of the training sessions.

In addition to attending a workshop for each module, Rene also completed an assignment for each individual standard to exemplify an understanding of the collective principles and how to apply them to improving study abroad experiences. Her culminating project involved suggesting revisions to the approved semester programs list in light of the changing student body at Lehigh and the new risk management landscape in study abroad. To maintain her certification, she will need to continue her professional development related to education abroad and the Standards of Good Practice.

Rene said that the standards provide guidelines for making decisions about study abroad, applicable to ensuring success and safety within Lehigh’s Study Abroad programs. These decisions include student recruitment, program development, academic framework, ethics, and health and safety, all of which Rene said the Study Abroad office considers on a consistent basis during the work week.

The Forum, according to Rene, offers a toolbox where any member or colleague can post documents or files or articles for reference at any time. This ensures that people who work in education abroad have easy access to resources from peers when determining policies and practices that serve the best interests of students and faculty.

“I think one of the highlights for me was to attend the in-person workshops and be able to sit around a table with colleagues in similar positions and chat through real-life scenarios,” Rene said of the experience.

“When you're in the moment, trying to make a decision about something, whether it's something very simple or very complicated, it’s important to remember that there are other people in the field who have probably faced these same decisions. We can reference best practices and collaborate with colleagues.”