Study abroad programs have changed the lives of hundreds of UT students in the College of Communication and Information (CCI), thanks to the efforts of Sam Swan, director of CCI Global Programs and Outreach and professor of Journalism and Electronic Media.
Swan started working at the University of Tennessee in 1985 and led his first study abroad program 15 years later. He led a group of 20 students from UT and Lee University in Cleveland, TN, on a three-week-long trip to London, Prague, and Paris to visit various media companies and compare media in Western Europe and Eastern Europe. During his tenure at UT, Swan increased the number of study abroad students in the college to over 100 in 2018.
“Global engagement is very much a part of my career…..not because it is my job, but because I believe in it. It is a major part of who I am.” Swan said. “I know how much my global experiences have changed my own life and the lives of my family. As a result, I encourage all students and faculty in CCI to become involved in global programs including study abroad.”
While an undergraduate student in Missouri, Swan’s interest in international programs developed from his study abroad experience. He was selected to participate in a unique two-week international program in Quebec, Canada, where he spent one week at a world’s fair in Montreal and one week with a farm family. Little did he know that his short-term experience abroad would lead to a global impact in his life and in the lives of others.
“After I graduated from college, I went on what would become the most life-changing experience… I was selected through a program called the International Farm Youth exchange program to go to a tiny country off the coast of India called Ceylon, now known as Sri Lanka,” said Swan.
He lived with ten different families across the country and gave dozens of presentations. One of his jobs was to work with the Young Farmers Clubs on competing for a national radio quiz program. Swan went on to complete his Ph.D. in International Communication from the University of Missouri.
In 1996, Swan began conducting training programs for broadcast journalists and media managers on behalf of the Voice of America, the US State Department, and many other agencies. Over 20 years, he trained thousands of journalists and managers through more than 150 workshops in over 50 countries.
One of Swan’s most significant achievements at UT was developing the semester-long Global Scholars Program in Sydney, Australia. The first group of Global Scholars studied abroad in 2016 and since then, over 94 UT students have had the opportunity to study and intern in Australia.
“After committing to the CCI Global Scholars Program, my family received unexpected health news, and I was considering backing out. I expressed my concerns to the study abroad office. A few days later, Dr. Swan personally reached out with his understanding, well wishes, and encouragement to continue with the amazing opportunity. Dr. Swan reassured me I could FaceTime my family and that it was only one plane ride away to get home! Without Dr. Swan’s support, I may not have ended going through with such an incredible experience,” said Lindsey Hagerty, 2020 CCI Global Scholars Student.
Swan has facilitated the development of several other faculty-led programs to Cyprus, London, Dublin, Rome, Siena, and Prague. He has led three study abroad groups to Prague himself. There are now 4 growing faculty-led programs offered each summer in CCI and two more in development.
Swan has received two Fulbright Specialist awards that allowed him to teach at the University of Zagreb in Croatia in 2012 and two universities in Ethiopia in 2015. Swan recently received a grant from the US Embassy in Belgrade, Serbia that involves both the design and delivery of an online course in Serbia and a student exchange between the University of Tennessee and three universities in Serbia.
“The online class with Serbia is a course on international journalism, but it’s also talking about the differences in media and democracy…discussing how their government works and how their media works within that government structure,” said Swan. “My grant with Serbia also involves a student exchange. I have also developed an undergraduate course on global communication and a new graduate course for our online master’s program.”
After students complete this course, the enrolled Serbian students will come to UT for two weeks to study mobile journalism. The international program will also consist of a 10-day trip for UT students to travel to Serbia to learn more about international journalism at all three partner universities.
“When I saw the grant opportunity with Serbia pop up, I was hopeful that Dr. Swan would take an interest in it. And that was before I knew the extent of his past work in the region,” says Jamie McGowan, Director of the Global Research Office. “I was pleased to work with Dr. Swan and his colleagues to support his submission of a competitive proposal and even more thrilled when I heard he received the grant.”
Swan has had two other grants to support journalism education around the world. The first was with Jordan where he was involved in helping two universities over a five-year period. Another involved two exchanges with students from the University of Zagreb in Croatia.
Swan has no doubt that global engagement should be a fundamental part of the university. “…we need to prepare our students to become citizens of an ever-shrinking world. Many of our current students will not only travel internationally, but many may also work in other countries. We are all affected by what happens around the world, and I believe everyone should be knowledgeable about the people and cultures of the world so that we all may develop a greater understanding of others.”
Swan is looking forward to teaching on-campus classes in the fall, speaking to classes to encourage to study abroad, and soon, leading groups of students abroad.