New director vows to double study-abroad students by 2020
If Lydia Westbrook could have her way, nations around the world would be filled with Cougar red.
“As the former UH Office of International Studies and Programs was repositioned and rebranded, a director’s position became available, and I saw a chance to contribute to UH’s globalization goals and initiatives,” Westbrook said.
With a bachelor of science degree in anthropology and a masters in hospitality management, Westbrook spent 16 years, including two years as a graduate student, working in the Hilton College. It’s here where Westbrook says she “became more and more interested in international education.” Westbrook said she feels her background has made her more than capable for her new role.
“I was in charge of the Hilton College’s exchange programs in five countries and extension program in Peru, which was established during my tenure there,” Westbrook said. “Sending students abroad while receiving international students from around the globe gave me insights on different academic systems, Visa requirements… This information is very helpful when assisting students with their learning abroad programs.”
The first group of students from the program Westbrook led graduated in December 2013, and the next group will graduate this fall. Westbrook attributes the success of this program to others who have been involved.
“This would not have been possible without the support and assistance across campus,” Westbrook said.
Westbrook has taken her new position by storm, making changes to the department. The OLA office has moved into room 105 of E. Cullen, a place she considers a “more student-friendly” location.
ListServe now helps to provide better communication with students, and the Facebook page features more UH students “in action” on their learning abroad programs. She plans to become involved in more UH events like the Cougar Resource Fair, International Education Week and other campus activities to increase awareness.
“University of Houston has committed to the Generation Study Abroad Challenge issued by the Institute of International Education to double the number of students who go abroad by 2020,” Westbrook said. “By increasing awareness and accessibility to the myriad of international opportunities available to UH students, we can reach this goal.”
Faculty and staff members are taking note of Westbrook’s new direction.
“Lydia’s approach to learning abroad is a fresh one,” said Vice Provost Jaime Ortiz. “I am very pleased with her first 60 days at the helm of [Learning Abroad]. Lydia is streamlining processes and procedures, updating manuals and forms, establishing a transparent data collection system and creating a culture of exceptional customer service to both students and faculty.”
Students are hoping that new leadership will make studying abroad a bit easier.
“I like that there is someone new in office,” said public relations senior Shiree Cole. “I hope she will find us some amazing opportunities to study abroad at affordable prices.”
Westbrook also has a solution for the financial burden students sometimes feel when trying to go abroad. Provost Paula Myrick Short has injected more funds for learning abroad scholarships to enable more students to participate in international programs.
“Traveling abroad forces a person out of their comfort zone while pushing to think beyond one’s own culture,” Westbrook said.
A former airman in the United States Air Force, Westbrook has had her own abroad experiences to back up her beliefs. She has traveled extensively in the Asia Pacific region, Europe, Central and South America. She also taught tourism courses which focused on economic, political, social and cultural impacts of travel at the Hilton College and Bethlehem University in the West Bank.
“In today’s global economy, it is more important than ever for students to have international experience,” Westbrook said. “Employers are looking for graduates who are adaptable, resourceful and able to work in a multicultural environment. Going abroad allows students to develop these skills and so much more.”
To learn more about the OLA department, visit the OLA department website at uh.edu/learningabroad/.