Harris Martin, who just finished his first year as an Emerald Eagle Scholar at UNT, has never been out of the country. But UNT is giving him a chance to explore the world.
Harris is one of 15 Emerald Eagle Scholars who traveled to Thailand this summer to be immersed in the Thai culture and environment in the first-ever Emerald Eagle Study Abroad Scholarship Program.
The selected students, who will return to campus Aug. 2, are learning about sustainable development, environmental ethics, disaster recovery and prevention and media representation in a program that covers the full cost of the trip.
"We are going to pull them out of the realm of being a college American tourist," said Melinda Levin, associate professor and chair of radio, television and film, before embarking on the trip. Levin is teaching the class along with Irene Klaver, associate professor of philosophy and religion studies, and Sudha Arlikatti, assistant professor of emergency administration and planning.
"We're going to be in small villages doing community service projects, and they are going to be able to see Thailand in the ways tourists do not," Levin said.
Students are based in Chiang Mai, where they are staying at the Chiang Mai Rajabhat University, with a visit to Phuket, while participating in field research and hands-on activities. The students will receive core course credit for participating in the interdisciplinary program.
Emerald Eagle Scholars commit to maintain a 2.5 grade point average, complete 30 semester credit hours each year and engage in university life by working on campus and participating in mentoring and other programs to ensure student success. The program is open to talented students who are Texas residents with adjusted household incomes of less than $40,000 and is funded by donations and federal, state and institutional funds.
All 15 students are part of the Emerald Eagle Scholars program, which provides selected students with free tuition and fees for four years. In fact, the Emerald Eagle Scholars program is one of only about 30 similar programs in the nation. The program was launched with a $350,000 endowment raised by activities surrounding Bataille's inauguration in April 2007. The endowment now stands at more than $500,000. The first class of about 400 Emerald Eagle Scholars enrolled in Fall 2007. Eighty percent of the students have pre-registered for Fall 2008 classes.
"It's all about building bridges, whether it's a bridge from UNT to across the street or from UNT to Thailand," Martin says. "It opens up so many opportunities."
Levin is teaching the students – all of whom have cameras – about ethical media representation in different cultures or areas that may have been affected by a disaster. Arlikatti is teaching the students about the recovery of Phuket after the 2004 tsunami, while Klaver is teaching the students about water issues, particularly focusing on the Mekong River.
"We, in the United States, don't get out of our safety zone too often," Levin says. "It will be a hard thing for them to go through at times, but it will be a life-changing experience and will make them better global citizens."
Martin, a business major and music minor, learned the Thai language in preparation for his trip. He planned to soak up as much information as he could about the music in Thailand in preparation for a career in the music industry.
"We'll be living with students our age in the different dormitories, and I plan to talk to them about what music they listen to and listen to it myself," he said before leaving for the trip. "I am seriously overwhelmed about being given the opportunity to do this."
Mellina Stucky can be reached at Mellina.firstname.lastname@example.org.