COVID-19 Leads to Innovative Changes to International Engagement at VSU

VSU Launches a Virtual Global Engagement Initiative 

Virginia State University, VAVirginia State University (VSU) is using innovation to keep its students globally competitive in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. The VSU Office for International Education recently launched a Virtual Global Engagement Initiative that supports faculty efforts to internationalize their courses with integrated virtual global learning activities.   

VSU, like other colleges and universities across America, was forced to cancel study abroad programming earlier this year due to COVID-19-related health and safety risks. The VSU Dr. George H. Bennett Office for international Education had to cancel scheduled programs to Belize, Jamaica, Morocco, Vietnam, Ghana, and Thailand. Students’ plans for individual travel were also cancelled.  However, undeterred by the pandemic, VSU has pressed on with its commitment to preparing students to be globally competitive. 

Working with a study abroad partner, Barcelona SAE (Study Abroad Experience), VSU identified ways to continue students’ global engagement. Customized global learning activities integrated into the professors’ courses enable VSU students to interact virtually with Spanish locals through the program’s “Barce-local Curriculum,” which focuses on increasing cultural awareness, sensitivity and understanding.   

Dr. Maxine Sample, VSU Director of International Education, praised the program providers’ pivot from study abroad to global learning saying “COVID-19 has created a greater need for a globally prepared virtual workforce. Virtual global learning means VSU can continue its strategic effort to internationalize students’ academic experiences.” 

All of the virtual global course components include sessions on intercultural training and Spanish culture, complemented by course-specific activities.   

Below are examples of the globally inspired courses.  

  • VSU Dietetics Program Coordinator, Dr. Patricia Lynch, will connect students in her DIET 437: Medical Nutrition Therapy II to working professions in Spain.  Students will get a glimpse into the Spanish health care system and learn about health and nutrition in the Spanish school system, including how meals are planned and prepared.  


  • Students in Dr. Michael McClure’s World Literature class assigned to read Spanish novelist Mercé Rodoreda’s The Time of the Doves will virtually tour Plaça dels Diamants, the neighbor in Barcelona where the historical novel is set, as a Spanish tour guide lectures on Spanish history.  


  • Dr. Berkita Bradford, chair of the VSU Hospitality Management Department, will introduce global perspectives to HMGT 440: Contemporary Issues in Hospitality Management through guest lectures from Barcelona on the culture of food and drink in Spain and on the hospitality industry in Barcelona.   


  • For her SPAN 313: Spanish Conversation course, Dr. Deanna Mihaly, Assistant Professor of Spanish, selected virtual activities delivered in Spanish, consistent with the discipline’s focus on global competence through language learning. Students will enjoy a virtual tour of neighborhood markets in Barcelona and participate with Barcelona locals in a discussion about shopping and eating habits of the community. 

This innovative program supports the strategic goals of the VSU 2020-2025 Strategic plan to deliver distinctive, responsive and innovative offerings that effectively prepare leaders and scholars to meet the demands of a global society and workforce. 

About Virginia State University 

Virginia State University, a public, comprehensive 1890 Land Grant institution and historically black college/university, is committed to the preparation of a diverse population of men and women through the advancement of academic programs and services that integrate instruction, research, extension, and outreach.