UNT study abroad program honored by Association of International Educators

Erika Esquivel Santa, a resident of Valle de Bravo, Mexico, was photographed by University of North Texas graduate student Jun Ma during the 2014 Heart of Mexico study abroad trip.
Thursday, March 9, 2017 - 14:08

DENTON (UNT), Texas — The University of North Texas has received a 2017 Senator Paul Simon Spotlight Award from NAFSA: Association of International Educators for its Heart of Mexico Literary and Visual Storytelling Project.

NAFSA is the world's largest nonprofit association dedicated to international education and exchange, with approximately 10,000 members at 3,500 educational institutions. The NAFSA Senator Paul Simon Spotlight Award is presented each year to no more than three institutions with innovative internationalization programs and initiatives. UNT received the only Spotlight Award in the area of Curriculum/Faculty Development.

Heart of Mexico was launched in 2013 by Thorne Anderson, associate professor in UNT's Frank W. and Sue Mayborn School of Journalism, and Lenin Martell, associate professor at the Autonomous University of the State of Mexico, or UAEM.

The program takes place for five weeks each summer. In June, students from UNT and UAEM who are studying journalism, ethnography and translation take up residence in a small town in Mexico. They complete an intensive training program before creating multimedia stories in teams and receiving cultural immersion by staying in homes of the town's residents. The narratives the students create are published annually in a billingual online publication, heartofmexicostories.com.

During the past four years, students have received more than 20 regional, national and international awards for their Heart of Mexico work from the Heart College Journalism awards, International Photography Association, Mexican Ministry of Foreign Affairs, National Press Photographers Association and Society of Professional Journalists.

Anderson said the program takes students out of familiar environments and provides them with the same challenges they could someday face as foreign correspondents or freelance writers and photojournalists. Anderson has worked internationally as a freelance photojournalist for The New York Times, Time, Newsweek, the Los Angeles Times and other publications, and has covered military conflicts in the Balkans, Afghanistan and Iraq. 

"The Heart of Mexico project has been the highlight of my educational career," Anderson said. "I've seen the project change faculty and student lives, and we've fostered lasting relationships and produced deeply insightful journalism of international significance. I'm thrilled that UNT received this award. We've created something truly unique, and the spotlight will help us share it with a wider audience."

Amy Shenberger, UNT's interim vice provost for international affairs and the director of the Study Abroad Center, said the Spotlight Award "represents UNT's commitment to campus internationalization and study abroad."

"The Heart of Mexico is a wonderful example of the importance of internationalizing teaching and curriculum and providing students with study abroad programs that promote global learning and professional training," Shenberger said.




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