Following a soft launch last April, Goshen College’s inaugural on-campus Study-Service Term, “Dreams & Journeys: Immigrants & Refugees,” was set to welcome its first cohort this fall, but only five students signed up.

In response to low numbers, the semester-long opportunity has now been moved to the spring 2021 semester.

The hope is that interest will grow among students over the next few months, said Jan Bender Shetler, director of international education. 

“We just aren’t getting the number of students we thought,” Shetler said, noting that the new SST option was introduced after four international summer and fall terms were cancelled last April due to COVID-19.

In order to move forward with “Dreams & Journeys,” a minimum of 10-12 students must sign up, Shetler said.

Shetler continues to work with Richard Aguirre, community impact coordinator, and Judy Weaver, director of the academic success center, both of whom were planning to co-lead this on-campus SST. 

For Aguirre, who labels himself a “student of immigration,” this Goshen-based SST could not come at a better time.

“This is a timely and innovative offering because of Elkhart County’s large and growing immigrant population,” Aguirre said. “And because immigration will be a major issue in the Presidential election.”

Students who join the first cohort of “Dreams & Journeys: Immigrants and Refugees” will immerse themselves in ideas of racial and ethnic identity and assimilation and conflict, alongside the economic, legal and political ramifications of immigration.

Among those who planned to participate was Laura Miller, senior Spanish and writing double major.

“Initially, I just signed up because my summer SST program was canceled,” Miller said. “But I actually ended up being pretty excited about the program. I have a lot of passion for work within the immigrant community, and I am excited to learn more about how I can participate in that work in Elkhart County.”

Aguirre notes that planning for this course requires acknowledging the potential for two very different futures for the U.S. after the presidential election is held in November.

“If there are structures with stronger controls on immigration, we could see an exodus [of immigrants] from places like Elkhart County, to communities that have been more welcoming to immigrants,” Aguirre said.

Even as promotion for the on-campus SST continues, much is unknown.

“I think it’s going to be much more possible in the spring, but there might be some restrictions that we will have to work with,” Shetler said.

Service assignments at local organizations such as LaCasa, Center for Healing and Hope and the National Immigrant Justice Center will depend on the status of the coronavirus at that time.

Still, the creation and promotion of a domestic SST follows the trend of many colleges’ expanding notions of international education amid a pandemic.

In his article, “An Expanded Notion of Study Abroad,” William Durden argues that study within U.S. borders must become the focus.

“Only in that way can colleges and universities safely and successfully meet student desires to understand people who are different from themselves and achieve their mission-critical goals,” Durden writes.

Aguirre agrees.

“This is a brand new approach, consistent with what our students have asked for,” he said.

The decision to prioritize on-campus SST offerings followed a year of reflection and assessment of GC’s international study opportunities in 2019 – a year that also marked 50 years of “transformational global citizenship” at the college.

In addition to the “Dreams & Journeys: Immigration & Refugees” domestic SST option, Shetler continues to plan for two summer terms in Senegal and Ecuador, though nothing will be finalized until the spring semester.

For now, the emphasis is on the diverse culture of Northern Indiana.

“You don’t have to go abroad to be global,” Shetler said.

As colleges and universities strive to be relevant and useful in a world where students and families question the value and return on investment of higher education, Durden argues for engagement with our neighbors.

And Goshen College has followed suit.

“One way or another, there’s going to be a major story that’s going to unfold in the next year,” Aguirre said. “And we’re going to be right in the middle of it during our spring semester with this new course.”