Classrooms beyond borders

Daniel Reeves explores Great Barrier Reef, 2010.
(Photo: Daniel Reeves)
“We set out to explore the Great Barrier Reef . . . I jumped in with snorkeling gear and was instantly surrounded by the most colorful and diverse assortment of fish, invertebrate and coral life . . . Nearly every marine fish I had ever seen pictures of was present within viewing distance — clown fish, trigger fish, wrasses, angel fish, butterfly fish, tangs, grammas, puffer fish, crabs, shrimp. Sometimes I would forget to breathe because it was so . . . well, breathtaking.”

The blog above is part of a photojournal written by RIC biology major Daniel Reeves while studying abroad in Australia. For six months Reeves recorded his experiences: “rainforest-covered mountains,” “pillars of smoke rising from aboriginal settlements,” “aboriginal tribal music and dance,” and enough kangaroos, dingoes, koalas and snakes to populate a Crocodile Dundee sequel.

Reeves is one of three RIC students studying abroad this year on a Ridgway F. Shinn Jr. Study Abroad Fund scholarship. Enrolled at James Cook University in Cairns, Queensland, Reeves is exploring, firsthand, the marine, zoological and environmental wildlife he once only read about in class.

To get to the Land Down Under on a Shinn scholarship, all Reeves had to do was achieve good academic standing, complete at least 30 credit hours of course work and present a budget and solid proposal of his purpose for studying abroad.

Two other 2010 Shinn scholars are in Spain. Sarah Petronio, a Spanish/elementary education major, is studying at the University of Granada; and Kevin Gravier, a Spanish/secondary education major, is enrolled at the University of Cadiz.

The Shinn fund was established by the late emeritus professor Ridgway Shinn who took his retirement gift and turned it into an endowed fund.

Now, for the first time in its history, the Shinn Fund Committee is being chaired by a former Shinn scholar, Joy Fox ’99. And Assistant Chair Maria Quiray ’02 and two board members, Patrick Shelton ’03 and Brian DeDentro ’05, are also former scholars. Their mission is to raise funds and awareness and help other students cross the border.

“Traveling to another country to study is not out of reach. Any student can do it,” said Fox. “It’s a great little secret that more RIC students need to be aware of.”

As a RIC student in 1997, Fox traveled to Ireland. She entered a country with a history of warring Celts, marauding Vikings, and English and French invaders, a lush green landscape of ruined castles, where Gaelic, introduced by the Celts, is still spoken as a second language.

Fox said she chose Ireland because of her Irish family background and because English is the country’s first language. She didn’t know, however, that though the Irish speak English, it’s an “Irish sort of English,” which can take some getting used to.

Joy Fox
A history major, Fox enrolled at the University College Galway (now, the National University of Ireland Galway) for a year. Her purpose for studying abroad was to examine U.S. history from a foreign perspective.

Brian DeDentro also chose Ireland as his classroom. As it has been for centuries, DeDentro found a vibrancy and urgency of political life in Ireland.

Brian DeDentro on the Cliffs of Moher in
County Clare, 2004. (Photo: Brian DeDentro)
“The 2004 American presidential race between Kerry and Bush was going on at that time,” he said. “I joined a political club called the Literary and Historical Society. The club held political debates on the election. It was amazing to see how engaged the Irish were in American foreign policy.”

An anthropology major, DeDentro studied for a year at University College Dublin, taking courses in American and Irish history, Celtic mythology and Celtic archaeology.

Living in Europe also afforded him ease of travel outside of Ireland. He visited Scotland, England, Italy, Germany and Spain. However, the most important result of his journey, he said, was the international friendships he formed.

Fox spoke of similar bonds of friendship. “I roomed with Irish and American students,” she said, “all of whom were just ordinary kids like me living away from home for the first time. We became family. We’d stay up talking until two and three in the morning, attempting to solve the problems of the world. Since then I’ve been back to Ireland countless times. I try and go every other year.”

For Shinn scholars, study abroad becomes a trip that leads to many others. Fox and DeDentro said it empowered them to become independent and more adaptable. They said it also infused them with wanderlust. Once these travelers crossed the border and realized that the U.S. was not the center of the universe, they wanted to set out again for distant lands.

Maria Quiray
Maria Quiray had never ventured farther than her native New England, but in her sophomore year at RIC, she applied to the National Student Exchange Program.

“I purposely chose to study at one of the farthest universities in the country – Northern Arizona University. Then I came back to RIC and chose a country on the farthermost side of the world – Australia. I was in Australia during the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

“When you talk about international education as a transformational experience, 9/11 deeply impacted my time abroad. I learned that I was not only representing myself and the college, I was an ambassador for the U.S. When students go abroad they’re connecting the U.S. with other parts of the world, they’re learning about other cultures and living with other cultures, they’re playing key roles in international relations, which is critical for the U.S.”

Quiray’s experience overseas was so profound, she said, it influenced her career path. After graduating from RIC, she served in Americorps. Then while completing her master’s degree at UMass Amherst, she landed a part-time job at UMass advising students in internships and study abroad. After earning her master’s degree, she took a position advising and placing students in community service positions in the U.S. and abroad. In her current position as director of Annual Gifts for Framingham State University, she raises funds, some of which may go to support study and internships abroad.

Patrick Shelton
“I think international education is the best way to dispel racism and prejudice,” said Patrick Shelton ’03.

Of Polish and Irish descent, Shelton has lived and worked with racially and ethnically diverse populations since his late teens. After high school, he applied to City Year, a community service position that involved working with a racially diverse team of corps members and a predominately African American population at the Geneva Avenue Head Start Program in Dorchester, Mass.

On the job, he befriended an African American corps member with whom he traveled to Poland. He said they purchased a prepaid train pass to get around and that they lived in hostels and slept for a few nights outside. He said he found the Polish people to be very warm and accepting of them.

“If you travel to another country with an open mind, if you travel with no expectation except to take a few months to see how other people live, you may not become a native of that country, but it will change you,” Shelton said.

Before studying abroad, Shelton spent a few summers in France and Sweden as a counselor and director at the Luethi Peterson Camps (LPC), an international summer camp with sites in Europe, New Hampshire and Maine. Though the camp was insulated and Shelton saw little of the countryside, he made lasting friendships.

He stumbled upon the Shinn program while taking an Italian language course at RIC. Shelton’s professor inspired him to apply for a Shinn scholarship, which he did. He traveled to Italy to study at the American University of Rome for one semester, taking a course in intensive Italian and an independent study. He saved on room and board expenses by living with an Italian friend he previously met at LPC. And that trip led to a return trip to Rome. He got a job there tutoring the children of an Italian family.

According to Ed Hoffa, author of "Student Abroad Student Guide," regardless of where they study or how long they stay, education abroad is “life-transforming” for students. It matures them. It gives them a sense of self-confidence and independence after being on their own in a foreign country. “It gives them an appreciation of the importance of international cooperation. It enhances their employment prospects, especially in the fields of business, international affairs and government service.”

“Employers increasingly seek graduates who have studied abroad,” wrote Hoffa, “because these students are likely to possess second-language skills, cross-cultural communication skills, analytical skills, an understanding of and familiarity with local customs and cultural contexts, flexibility, resilience, and the ability to adapt to new circumstances and to deal constructively with differences.”

RIC students interested in studying or interning abroad first email the director of RIC’s Study Abroad Program, Professor Gale Goodwin Gomez (; she can help students prepare a budget. There are places in the world where a student can live on one dollar a day and other places that are quite expensive.

RIC students interested in applying for a Shinn Fund scholarship inquire at their academic department. There is a faculty liaison in every department who assists students with the application process.

Applications and assistance are also given by the chair of the Shinn Awards Committee, Professor Joanne Schneider (

The Shinn blog posts application deadlines, forums and informational fairs.

Dedicated fundraising is needed for the continuation of the Shinn fund, said Fox. Shinn's endowment has largely increased, she said, due to the generosity and commitment of RIC’s faculty and staff.

Professor Emerita and donor Dorothy Pieniadz noted the prominent fundraising efforts of former Shinn Fund Committee chair, Claire Giannamore. “For over a decade, Claire coordinated a group of very loyal supporters — faculty, staff and friends of the college,” she said.

Today the Shinn Fund Committee is reaching out for additional support from former Shinn scholars. “We need them to know that the Shinn Fund is still here and that we need their support,” said Fox. “We’re now on Facebook. It’s a way to stay connected with former scholars.”

“Dr. Shinn liked adding pins to his map of the places that Shinn scholars had traveled,” Quiray said. “He was so excited when he heard I was going to Australia to study. At that time, no Shinn scholar had been there. He and his wife, along with board members Elaine and Gene Perry, came all the way to Australia to see me.”

Daniel Reeves takes road trip to Ayers Rock at the Uluru National Park
in Australia, 2010. (Photo: Daniel Reeves)
Because of Shinn’s philanthropy, Daniel Reeves navigated the Australian outback on camel and cupped the red earth in his hands.

“We are exactly what Dr. Shinn had in mind,” Fox said. “He wanted to take ordinary RIC students out of the U.S. to explore the world. He wanted them to live abroad for the first time, to manage their own day-to-day affairs, to be exposed to new cultures and to people like themselves. It’s an invaluable experience personally and it’s invaluable to international relations.”

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