Staff Spotlight: Amy Ruhter McMillan

We had the chance to chat with Amy Ruhter McMillan, the Assistant VP of Marketing for IES Abroad. A fellow Valpo alum (Go Crusaders!), we chatted over our shared experiences in undergrad study abroad - she, while originally planning to study abroad in southern Africa, changed her mind last minute to instead participate in the Cambridge program (while I did the exact opposite!).

What separates IES Abroad from other study abroad program providers?

Amy Ruhter McMillan

Amy: One of the biggest things that sets us apart is our non-profit status. Our focus is not about making money but instead to provide top quality, life-changing study abroad programs to students. IES Abroad is also extremely dedicated to students’ safety while overseas - many organizations have used our Crisis Management Plan as a model for their own, especially after our response to the 9/11 tragedy, where we quickly executed our plan and prioritized communication with our students and their families, as well as the students’ schools. We always want our students to feel taken care of.

What does the future hold for IES Abroad? Any exciting new programs to share?

Amy: In the fall of 2012, we're excited to launch our first program in Central America. In this Costa Rica program, classes will focus on social and environmental change in the region, and will be a perfect fit for those looking to complement their Spanish studies. Or, if students prefer to primarily focus on improving their language skills, Costa Rica will also have a Spanish immersion program.

We are also offering a new comparative health program in London and Oxford. After learning about socialized medicine from a British perspective for the semester, students will cap off their trip with a week long seminar in Jamaica, allowing them to examine first-hand these very different approaches to medicine.

For those interested in a more short-term experience, we’ve recently implemented a few new summer options - health studies in Cape Town, South Africa and an internship program in Shanghai, China.

What about the future of the industry? How do you think international education will change over the next 10 years?

Amy: This is a tough question to answer given the economic situation of the country. On one hand, I find that students are thinking more and more about the world we live in, but on the other, students are having trouble financing their schooling in general. College education is already a luxury and being able to study abroad is a luxury of that luxury. The desire is there but the reality is what people can and cannot afford.

But if there’s a will there’s a way -- while study abroad can be costly, many financial aid options and scholarships exist specifically for these experiences. At IES Abroad alone, we offer over 2.5 million dollars to students in an effort to defray their costs.

A recent report suggested that up to 50% of incoming freshman intended to study abroad during college, but the reality is only 3% actually do. What’s going on here?

Amy: This is a topic we are constantly discussing. A lot of students work very hard to be able to go to college; they arrive, they meet their friends, get involved with activities, create comfort zones, and then never want to leave! Students hear of those “life changing experiences” overseas, but how do you speak to that student who never even thought study abroad was possible for them?

We’ve recently launched a marketing campaign called [Redefined], which aims to better showcase that that “life changing experience” is real, relevant, and possible for a typical student’s academic experience. Picture your walk to class, but [redefined] -- instead of relying on your old tennis shoes, why not ride a camel? Why eat another meal in your dinky cafeteria, when it can be [redefined] to a small, French bakery you thought only existed in the movies?

No matter what your economic situation is, where you’re from, or what you believe, you deserve to study abroad.

Amy seemed very excited when discussing the opportunities available for students even after they’ve returned from an IES Abroad program. To continue their overseas experience, students can serve as volunteer ambassadors for the organization and speak with prospective students - there are currently over 700 IES Abroad ambassadors. “There’s no better voice for what we do than people who can speak first hand about their study abroad experiences.”