Each summer, incoming students are given an opportunity to ready themselves for college life and The University of Tulsa’s unique educational experience by participating in an an annual program called JumpstartTU. The one-week experience in Panama serves as an introduction to study abroad that blends learning about another country and culture with field experience from nongovernmental organizations and intergovernmental agencies. Students are exposed to global issues in an international context while developing an interest in university studies.
TU held two sessions this summer (June 14-21 and July 5-13) for 150 incoming freshmen, 39 of whom are first-generation college students. Biology freshman Walli Zaman of Fort Smith, Arkansas, participated in 2019 after a friend recommended he apply.
“He told me it was a great experience, a fresh opportunity for me to start off my next four years. He was right!” Zaman said. “I looked into what JumpstartTU was about and it sparked my interest. Not only was it an educational trip to Panama in learning about a culture, language and environment outside of the United States, but it gave me a taste of what I see my future at TU being like. I learned many important lessons that I could take back with me to college, and I met 74 others who will be right alongside me in my class, all striving to be their best and being successful in life.”
Zaman explained his favorite moment from the trip, aside from meeting some of his best friends, was the adventure. After settling in for a couple of days in Panama and going to places such as the Panama Canal and the Old City in Panama, participants split into five different groups to learn and explore the country.
“I was blessed with being in the Geoversity group. We learned that Geoversity is a global organization that helps many countries by being the mediator in political disputes between the government and land rights,” he said. “Each day became a full adventure from visiting villages of the beautiful Embera people, discovering secret waterfalls in the lands and hiking a rigorous, self-made trail with our guide, Claus, and his cameraperson, Kandi.”
Ron Walker, associate dean of the Oxley College of Health Sciences and a clinical professor of athletic training, was one of Zaman’s JumpstartTU faculty/staff facilitators in the Geoversity group. “JumpstartTU is the most unique student engagement program I have ever been associated with,” Walker said. “I have truly enjoyed the opportunity to facilitate and observe the interactions between incoming TU students, faculty and staff.”
Many of the students in Walker’s group are incoming TU engineering students. “To witness the growth of friendships and support systems that will undoubtedly last for the duration of their collegiate careers, and beyond, is extraordinary,” he said. “We heard many comments from students about how their experiences in the rainforest with Geoversity would influence their future studies, how they interact with the environment and how they would harvest and utilize natural resources.”
Walker’s own daughter attended the 2018 JumpstartTU program, and he has witnessed how the social support and connections developed during the study abroad experience continue to grow and flourish even a year later. “The challenges, opportunities and growth that these students experience in only a week is truly remarkable,” he said.
David Kobel, assistant director of the Center for Student Academic Success and one of the JumpstartTU faculty/staff facilitators said the program focuses on helping new students adjust to all areas of college life.
“JumpstartTU provides an opportunity for incoming freshmen to connect with one another, get to know TU faculty and staff and have a short-term study abroad experience that opens their eyes to cultural differences, the challenges faced by others and the extraordinary efforts being undertaken by dedicated organizations within the country,” he said.
Kobel and TU Vice Provost for Global Education Jane Kucko, led a team of students this year, and one of their small groups worked with the Centro de Mujeres Colonenses en Camino (MUCEC), a local nonprofit organization that works with abused women and children who come from difficult conditions.”
“Our students presented lessons to the children and provided a craft workshop to the women,” Kobel said. “Watching our students bond with the children of MUCEC and seeing how these children embraced our student visitors was very compelling. It was also truly rewarding to see our students connect with the Embera villagers, share a meal with them, learn their style of dance and experience a lifestyle totally different from what they are used to,” Kobel said.