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Opening Up the Gateway

NC State’s gateway to Europe is about to open a little wider.

Going beyond the UNC System, the NC State European Center in Prague will open its fall 2022 programs to land-grant universities across the country. This represents yet another growth milestone for a program launched in 2005 exclusively for students in NC State’s College of Design.

“The success of NC State Prague reflects our robust commitment to a well-rounded education that equips students for participation in an increasingly global society,” said Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Warwick Arden. “By opening our home in the heart of Europe to institutions across the country, we’re giving even more students the benefits of a comprehensively excellent NC State experience.”

NC State Prague sits poised to continue its strategic momentum on the cusp of the center’s five-year anniversary within the Office of Global Engagement. The center will open its study abroad application process to college students across the country on February 15, with an application deadline of April 1. Current NC State students will still maintain application priority, followed by students at UNC System campuses, then students nationwide if space permits.

The inspiration behind opening up NC State Prague to non-UNC System students aligns with the center’s current strategy to develop more STEM-based courses to serve more engineering and sciences students.

“We have a rich STEM offering in Prague, but we don’t often fill the classes. By expanding to other land grant-institutions, we can regularly offer these classes and expand our offerings.” said Kim Strozewski, director of NC State Prague. “This will allow more options for NC State students in Prague. As the College of Engineering is planning to expand their enrollment as part of the Engineering North Carolina’s Future endeavor, we hope that we can have more courses in Prague for these students to engage in global opportunities while still staying on track to graduate.”

Programming in Prague

NC State Prague is the university’s only permanent international facility and welcomes students from all academic disciplines. Students earn NC State credit hours in one of Europe’s most beautiful cities, and get to experience cultural events and excursions within and around the historically and culturally rich city of Prague.

While other study abroad programs in Prague focus on Central European themes and humanities, NC State’s program offers many general education requirements, so students don’t lose time working on their degree. Classes such as Principles of Sociology (SOC 202) or Contemporary Moral Issues (PHI 221) courses incorporate the cultural context and experiential learning into the curriculum, while still making sure they fulfill the same requirements as on campus.

“The programming always complements the courses that students are taking and allows them to learn about Czech culture and gain new insights into historical and contemporary life,” said Strozewski. “We have many cultural events they can participate in, such as Czech cooking classes, historical tours, visits to museums or night at the opera. We have some excursions in and out of around Prague that are part of their classes, such as a visit to the national observatory, coal mines or green architectural sites.”

As part of the program fee, students will also be able to participate in the out-of-country trips around the region. The out of country trips are not just tourist visits, but are designed with learning objectives.

Additionally, NC State Prague maintains strong partnerships with local universities, such as the Czech University of Life Sciences and Czech Technical University, so students have opportunities to visit these campuses with their professors and work with local students.

NC State Prague moved to a new facility in 2017, expanding a commitment to provide more opportunities to study and conduct research abroad. Even though the COVID-19 pandemic impacted study abroad in Prague over the past few years, last semester the center hosted 28 NC State students, and 38 students this semester, and the center expects 95 students this summer, getting closer to pre-pandemic enrollment.

“The NC State European Center in Prague is the NC State gateway to Europe for developing international networks and experiences,” said Bailian Li, senior vice provost for Global Engagement. “As a unit of the Office of Global Engagement, it is the No. 1 study abroad destination for NC State students,15.4 percent of the overall study abroad population. Beyond study abroad, NC State Prague is expanding international collaborations and faculty research with its central European location and excellent facilities.”

Alumni Advocate for Prague

With the overwhelmingly positive feedback from NC State Prague alumni, it comes as no surprise that the center wants to welcome others into that experience. Students often comment on how their time at NC State Prague benefitted them both academically and personally.

“My favorite part about studying abroad was the immense amount of growth I had while being in Prague. Having the opportunity to see the world outside of my small hometown in North Carolina really transformed how I think and feel about myself and the ability I have to thrive in places that I have never been in,” said senior science education major Elizabeth Vanegas. “I believe that other students should choose the Prague program as it offers them a great balance of academic and social independence, while also providing the support and structure necessary to thrive during a study abroad program. The location of the program gives students an opportunity to branch out in the Czech Republic and neighboring countries and the staff, along with the professors, provide guidance in interactive and fascinating academic courses.”

NC State Prague study abroad alumni remarked how their experience not only satisfied academic requirements, but lent depth to their quest for deeper knowledge and exploration.

“I left Prague with a powerful drive to know more. To be curious!,” said Jesse Minor, who is pursuing a master’s degree in architecture from NC State. “An experience like this has the potential to really open the mind. Additionally, my critical thinking skills drastically improved through exercises in the classroom and the real world.”

Student Benefits

Students from non-UNC System schools will reap the same benefits as NC State students at NC State Prague. These students will receive assistance navigating the visa application process if they need additional help, which is especially important as the Czech visa application is quite complicated.

These students will get NC State credits, but each university NC State partners with may also accept them as transfer or direct credits. Students will receive an NC State transcript after completion of the program, and Alex Wesner, the NC State Prague assistant director, will work with study abroad offices at other universities to make the process as smooth as possible or to answer any questions. All classes are NC State classes and receive university credits, and these credits will not need to be adjusted from the European Credit Transfer system.

Of course, students will experience the highest quality in faculty and course instruction. All faculty members and their syllabi have been approved by their respective departments, and many have had the opportunity to visit NC State’s main campus and connect with their departmental colleagues. NC State Prague also has a faculty affairs liaison, Ondřej Pešout, who is a graduate of the College of Education and works with all new faculty members on curriculum design and teaching methodology for U.S. students.

Solid Foundation, A Bright Future

NC State Prague hopes to continue expanding its reach to faculty and students not only at NC State, but across the country. The move to open up registration to non-UNC System students will hopefully be the first step in a trajectory of strategic growth.

Not only is NC State Prague a destination for students, but the center could open up opportunities for NC State faculty who engage in research projects with researchers from other land-grant institutions. There could be joint faculty-led programs or symposia or conferences hosted at NC State Prague that would help facilitate in-country connections.

“We know we provide a great opportunity for our students, so why not extend this to other similar institutions?,” said Strozewski. “It is possible for us to offer an affordable option for students from other public institutions as study abroad is often out of reach due to cost. By opening up to other land grant institutions, it will allow us to diversify our student body “– when we have a more robust enrollment, we can offer more classes that can directly benefit NC State students.”

This article was originally published by Emily Packard on Feb 9, 2022.