Bob Miles traveled a great distance 17 years ago when he left the University of Glasgow in Scotland where he was a sociology professor to become the first full-time director of the Study Abroad Program at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Under his leadership, the program has come a long way, too.
In the summer of 2000, most of UNC’s study abroad programs were concentrated in western Europe. Today, they span the globe, with more than 330 programs offered in 70 countries.
“When I arrived here, our undergraduate students had no opportunity to study at a university in London or in Asia,” said Miles, now the University’s associate dean for study abroad and international exchanges in the College of Arts & Sciences.
Miles helped to establish strategic partnerships to remedy that – first with King’s College London and later with the National University of Singapore.
Now, as Miles prepares to retire at the end of the year, nearly one-third of undergraduates in the College of Arts and Sciences have completed an academic program abroad for credit – almost double the number who studied abroad when he started.
Jason Kinnear, deputy director of study abroad, will serve as interim director starting in January. Meanwhile, Miles has already begun to think about the many things he will miss.
He will miss working with longtime partners at King’s College London and the National University of Singapore. Most of all, he will miss the students – and being able to witness the profound changes he sees in so many of them upon their return from a study abroad experience.
Before coming to study at Carolina, some students have never left the state, much less the United States, Miles said.
“When they come back after their experience of living and studying abroad, particularly for those who left the United States for the first time, you can see how it really changes them in so many ways both intellectually and personally,” Miles said. “I’ll miss being a part of that.”
The wide array of credit-bearing programs is now something students take for granted, Miles said, but it is an observation he makes without complaint. Their creation is what he came here to do; as he leaves, they are the part of Carolina about which he takes the most pride.
As he steps away, Miles also views the study abroad program in the context of the wider effort now underway called Blueprint for Next, the campus-wide strategic framework that seeks to strengthen Carolina’s position as a leading global research university focused on bettering the world in which its faculty, staff and students work and live.
“If we are going to continue to grow as a global research university, then we have to continue to expand the opportunities we provide – not just for our undergraduate students, but our graduate students and faculty as well,” Miles said.
Beyond the student exchange program, the University has developed international partnerships with academic institutions to position the University to be able to expand its values, mission and philosophy internationally. And the linkages now extend not only between countries, but across disciplines, schools and departments as well. “What we have done over the past 17 years has provided a very solid foundation for much of that to happen,” Miles said.
Learn more about the Study Abroad Program.
Story by Gary Moss for the University Gazette.