In summer 2017, Lehigh joined the American Talent Initiative (ATI), a national campaign to enroll high-achieving low-income students at the institutions with the highest graduation rates in the United States. Lehigh is increasing its undergraduate population by 1,000 as part of the Path to Prominence, looking to extend the value of a Lehigh education to more students from more diverse backgrounds than ever before.

LUSSI—the Lehigh University Student Scholars Institute—is one of a handful of programs to help these students succeed at Lehigh; there are currently more than 120 LUSSI students across the three undergraduate colleges. OIA is partnering with LUSSI and the Office of Equity and Community on LUSSI: Passport to Success, a program to help these students pursue academic opportunities beyond campus, including study abroad, international internships and global experiences in the United States. The program is directed by Katie Welsh Radande, director of study abroad, and Dr. George White, the newly appointed managing director for student access and success.

Education abroad is considered a “high-impact education practice” that can have a profound effect on a student’s academic success and personal growth. Students who study abroad, especially “at-risk” students, are more likely to stay in college, get better grades, and graduate on time.

“We want to help students have an experience abroad early in their academic career because study abroad is correlated with retention, persistence and self-efficacy,” says Cheryl Matherly, vice president and vice provost for international affairs.

“This is in part because the experience abroad itself challenges students in ways that develop their independence, self-confidence and resilience. The process to apply and get approval to study abroad also requires that students work very closely with the advising staff on campus (academic and study abroad), and as a result, they tend to be more academically engaged.”

Passport to Success is a year-long mentorship program—participants will meet in small groups with a staff mentor from OIA and a LUSSI student mentor to explore program options, set goals, get a passport and apply for an experience in the summer. Students will meet once a month for lunch meetings to participate in formal programs, and informally to explore their academic options. The goal is to help students think about their study abroad as part of the academic career goals, and not just as an add-on to their time at Lehigh.

The program covers the application fee for students who need to get or renew a passport. And thanks to gifts from Trevor P. and Laura R. Bond '83 and Salome Michell '89 and Neil Golding, participants are eligible to apply for one of three $2,500 study abroad scholarship for a summer or semester program. Mentors will also help them apply for the Benjamin Gilman scholarship, a State Department award for Pell Grant recipients, and other nationally competitive scholarships. The application for the study abroad scholarships intentionally resembles that for the Gilman, to help students prepare for the rigorous application process.

“Our goal is to make sure that all students who want an international experience can have one; it’s an important part of the overall Lehigh experience,” says Radande. “For students who have never traveled, just getting a passport can be overwhelming and they assume education abroad isn’t for them. This gesture of giving them a passport says, ‘You can do this and we want to help you get there.’”

This year is a pilot, with the goal of expanding Passport to Success to all of Lehigh’s first-generation college students.