Update: Study abroad office examines communications strategy after unsanctioned third-party program attracts some students

The third-party provider Global Student Embassy worked with Geneseo students for a Nicaragua service trip over winter break, providing monetary incentives to student recruiters and falsely affiliating with the college.

Approximately 20 Geneseo students attended the trip sponsored by GSE to Nicaragua over winter break, according to Assistant Director of Geneseo Study Abroad Emily Froome . GSE is a non-profit organization focused on environmental activism and cultural exchange, according to GSE representative and participant sophomore Alexander Mosquera.

The organization works primarily with past participants of their program, many who are students at Geneseo, and offers them the potential to be awarded a free trip based on how well they recruit other students for the program, according to Froome. Only the two campus representatives for a given trip have the opportunity to receive funding for their tuition, Mosquera said.

“Typically, what this provider does is they work with students who’ve been on their programs in the past … and they have those students help recruit Geneseo students to go on this program in the future,” Froome said. “In return, sometimes the students who have helped recruit more Geneseo students will get like a free trip or something for recruiting so many students.”

This method of using students who have previously been on study abroad programs to advise other students interested in studying abroad is a common strategy utilized by the Study Abroad Office as well. The strategy of providing monetary rewards for student recruiters is where the two recruiting efforts largely differ. Students at Geneseo work on a volunteer basis with the Study Abroad Office. The office does not offer these students additional rewards for recruiting fellow students, according to Associate Director of Study Abroad Samuel Cardamone.

“There are many things about student recruitment that resemble what our office does, which is past participants help speak to future participants and recruit students,” Cardamone said.  “The big difference is if a Geneseo student recruits or assists in advising another student to go on another program, that student never has the potential to be given, awarded a free program, free trip.”

While this particular trip happened without any issues, Cardamone expressed concerns about international travel programs not sponsored by a credit-granting institution.

“We have no oversight, we have not checked the safety and security of these programs, we have not checked the academic rigor of these programs and therefore while all of these things might be sound and above board, there’s been absolutely no oversight from SUNY Geneseo to these programs,” Cardamone said. “We believe that students are being misled is what it comes down to. Students are being misled to believe that this is a Geneseo program.”

GSE and students enrolled in the program clearly indicate that it is not affiliated with the college, according to Mosquera. In orientations, group leaders stated that the program was not connected to the college and corrected students when they expressed confusion, according to Mosquera.

The Study Abroad Office was notified that the organization was using the college’s name to attract Geneseo students through faculty members, according to Froome. The GSE website has a page for universities that claims “GSE currently works in 15 Universities around the country,” although it includes a disclaimer that says “Global Student Embassy is an independent organization and international trips are not school-sponsored or school-supported activities.”

“Students get mixed messages and they come to our office thinking it is our program so they’ll come and ask us questions about it,” Froome said. “We’re not the only SUNY school that this organization has used . . . We let the Center for International Education at SUNY know that this was happening. They had the SUNY legal counsel send a cease and desist letter to this company about using the term SUNY Geneseo and SUNY Albany as it appears on their website.”

The Forum on Education Abroad provides ethical guidelines to be implemented in study abroad education, which are violated by the recruitment strategy utilized by this third-party provider, according to Cardamone.

“We don’t think of our educational study abroad programs as sales, so there is no additional recognition or compensation for someone who recruits a lot of students to participate in study abroad,” Cardamone said. “[The Forum of Education Abroad] has explicitly targeted this kind of recruitment strategy as something that runs counter to the ethics of international education.”

Mosquera said that the programming provided by GSE does not qualify as a study abroad program and does not function under the same standards of procedure as Geneseo study abroad programs. The service trip instead resembles a separate trip with individuals who happen to go to college at Geneseo, Mosquera said.

Communication strategies could be a strong tool in ensuring students don’t misunderstand what program they’re choosing, Cardamone said.

“Communication with deans and chairs and faculty members, people who have the ability to award credit to students is important,” Cardamone said. “Hopefully by a student proposing it before they ever participate, they can have it reviewed, determine that this or is not SUNY approved, or is reviewed for health and safety purposes so that students are doing those steps ahead of the program before any financial commitments are made.”

Students may become confused about whether a service trip program like GSE provides academic credit, according to Froome.

The Study Abroad Office can work with students to find programs not sponsored by Geneseo or SUNY, but through other credit bearing institutions to suit specific student needs.

“Our office has the expertise to help students interpret some of the language [and in] making informed decisions,” Froome said. “That’s what we want to do. We have to get out there and let students know that we can help them make informed decisions.”

Mosquera and geography and international relations double major junior Drew Arnum expressed concerns over how the Study Abroad Office misrepresented GSE. Arnum believes that the office unfairly maligned GSE in its statements in the original Lamron article.

“[They] were just really ripping on GSE based on the little knowledge [they] have about GSE,” Arnum said. “It feels like [they we]re really pulling out anything they can to condemn GSE.”

Mosquera, who will be one of two GSE campus representatives for its winter 2019 trip, expressed plans to work more closely with the Study Abroad Office in order to clarify the role GSE has on-campus and resolve any confusion.