Study Abroad Center sets up shop in the library

The Study Abroad Center (SAC), which since 2001 has had various homes in the Memorial Union, opened in 281 Parks Library this week. Its new home is that second-floor space you can't help but peer into as you ascend the central staircase at the library.

SAC director Frank Peters said the move is about location and visibility.

"The new space is front and center in one of the most prominent buildings on campus," he said. "In the library, students literally will be walking by us. We hope to capture more drop-in traffic and raise more interest among students for a study-abroad experience."

Studying abroad is among the high-impact practices the university encourages for all undergraduates.

SAC was scheduled to be a fifth-floor tenant following a $10 million renovation of floors 4-6 at the Memorial Union, which is wrapping up this spring. Peters noted the switch makes efficient use of an underutilized space in the library.

Student interactions

University library dean Hilary Seo, who welcomes SAC to her building, said there's synergy in the goals of the library and SAC.

"We both want students to take advantage of our programs and services that will help them gain experiences," she said. "We have great opportunities for them; they just don't know about all of them. I think there's a lot we can do together."

Seo said the focus of a modern library expands beyond its collections to people and services.

"Stop thinking of us as a building full of books. As campus needs evolve, we're redefining what the Iowa State community needs from us -- and it's not always books. We're shifting our focus toward experiences and collaborations that engage students, faculty and staff in fresh ways," she said.

"So it's also about our librarians and library staff and the added value they bring. And it's about dedicating space and technology to support all these interactions," she added.

The library location was important enough that SAC staff -- six when a current vacancy is filled -- will adjust to the smaller footprint. Peters said WorkFlex contracts -- each staff member works remotely one day a week -- and Peters' faculty office in Black Engineering also help alleviate the pinch. The new office in the library features three "check-out" spaces where staff can meet with students and each other.

Peters, who was reappointed this winter to a second three-year, 75% term as SAC director, is the C. G. "Turk" and Joyce A. Therkildsen Professor and associate professor in industrial and manufacturing systems engineering.

In a typical year, about 1,800 Iowa State students study abroad, 1,100 on a faculty-led, college-hosted program lasting one to six weeks. The other 700 students are on semester and longer-term summer programs, about evenly split between SAC and college international study programs. With one exception, there's no duplicative opportunities, so SAC and the college programs collaborate to guide students to the best program for them based on the desired destination and time length.