This summer, 22 Bryant University students spent two weeks at Oxford University’s Hertford College through the Head, Hand, and Hertford Programme, a unique study abroad opportunity developed in partnership between Bryant and Hertford. The students learned from some of Oxford’s finest educators, visited sights of cultural and historical importance, and expanded their global perspective.
The overseas trip yielded untold benefits for the student cohort, who were guided by Allison Butler, Ph.D., Professor of Psychology and IDEA Program Director, Michael Roberto, DBA, Trustee Professor of Management, and Cindi Lewis, Bryant’s Director of International Education. They acquired a new outlook on the world, gained new context for their studies, made important connections, and grew as people and as leaders ready to excel in an increasingly connected 21st century of unlimited global opportunity.
“This was an incredible experience, and I am honored to say I have studied at Hertford College while attending Bryant University,” says Sophie Turner ’24. “I am so glad I had the opportunity to travel like this and go outside of my comfort zone because I truly believe it has benefited me in so many ways.”
When people ask Nicholas Mirecki ’24 about the trip, he comes right to the point. “I tell them it was the most valuable two weeks of my life,” he says.
The value of studying abroad
Located in Oxford, England, 55 miles west of London, the University of Oxford is widely recognized to be among the world’s leading and most revered universities. It was an ideal setting for the Bryant students to challenge themselves academically, deepen their knowledge of Britain and British culture, and gain global citizenship skills and cultural enrichment.
"The esteemed academic reputation of Oxford is something that is well known throughout the United States,” says Professor Butler. “This was a chance for our students who enjoy academic rigor to be able to have the opportunity to travel to an academic institution with such a rich history."
Bryant’s administration, including President Ross Gittell, Ph.D, and Executive Director of Institutional Effectiveness and Strategy Edinaldo Tebaldi, Ph.D., worked closely with the Hertford College officials including Hartford College Principal Tom Fletcher, a former Ambassador for the United Kingdom and Foreign Policy Adviser to the Prime Minister, to make sure the study abroad program was specially tailored to the Bryant students and served as a ideal complement to their Bryant education. "I think we're all very grateful to President Gittell and all of the other people at Bryant who worked so hard to make our Oxford experience possible," says Andrew Ahlquist ’24, who notes that the Oxford trip was his first outside of the country. "It's a real testament to how much Bryant University cares about their students and how much they care about providing us with unique, and incredible, educational opportunities."
“They opened the floor up to us. They introduced us to these new ideas and then turned around and said, ‘Let’s discuss this further.’ Talking about what you’ve learned like that helps you to open your mind.”
Before the trip, Lewis and the professors helped the cohort prepare for the expedition. To make the most of the experience, the students researched and wrote reports about Oxford history and some of the subjects they would be learning about—and also learned the ins and outs of international travel.
“The Hertford College program at Oxford University is a unique experience because this is our first program in the new short-term study abroad model that is designed to provide students with a more immersive study abroad program,” Lewis notes. “The Oxford program was a wonderful opportunity to combine the theoretical with the experiential framework of learning.”
Over the course of the two-week program, the students learned from some of Oxford's best instructors, including Fletcher himself. The faculty led tutorial sessions on a wide range of subjects, including history, art appreciation, the automobile industry, architecture, and leadership. “When students travel abroad, their mind opens to not just another culture but a different vantage point on the world," says Roberto. "One of our goals was to really challenge the students to tackle some very difficult material outside of their major—and outside of their comfort zone—and then to ask them to draw connections."
Ahlquist says that the international perspective he gained from the tutorials was invaluable. “We weren't just getting the point of view of the United States,” he states. “When we talked about economics or monetary policy or other subjects, we were getting the perspective of so many different countries around the world and learning about how they interact with each other.”
“If you are going to be an innovative, global leader, you can't just know American interpretations of text, or of art, or of history, or of the economy,” points out Butler. “Learning from the Oxford faculty pushed the students to develop as leaders, and as thinkers who could understand different perspectives and interpretations and the context that surrounds them."
Mirecki appreciated that the Oxford professors solicited the Bryant students’ opinions and encouraged them to reflect on and talk through what they were learning. “They opened the floor up to us,” he says. “They introduced us to these new ideas and then turned around and said, ‘Let’s discuss this further.’ Talking about what you’ve learned like that helps you to open your mind.”
“It was almost unbelievable, seeing the history and the buildings in person that you only ever see pictures of. To be right there was incredible."
The Bryant professors also taught several sessions, lending their individual expertise to the trip. Professor Roberto took the cohort through his award-winning Everest simulation, which requires the students to make life and death decisions as a team. Professor Butler, in collaboration with Bryant alumna Nina Luiggi ’18, who works in London as a Research Manager at Verve, led a workshop on design thinking, an innovative, human-centered approach to defining, investigating, and solving complex problems used by some of the most successful companies in the world.
It was impressive to see how much Bryant’s professors could add to the educational experience at one of the most prestigious schools in the world, says Ahlquist. “It made me think how lucky we are to have faculty members such as Professor Roberto and Professor Butler, who teach at such a high level,” he notes.
Part of the world
Regular excursions to sites of cultural and historical importance helped the students appreciate their studies and added important context. "Being able to experience the things they’re learning about helps students take some of the ideas they’ve studied out of the classroom and brings them to life in a different way, adding a whole other dimension to their studies," Roberto says.
“It provides a sense of awe that you don't get in a classroom or by reading a book or watching a module online. To be able to actually experience your lessons in person is an opportunity for really high impact learning,” Butler agrees.
Visiting sites like the National Gallery, Shakespeare's birthplace, and the British Museum made the learning experience exciting, says Madison Scherner ’24. “We would learn about all of these important pieces of art, about their history and why they’re important—and then we would go to see them in person and experience them and talk about what they were actually like,” she remembers. “It was one of the coolest things I think I've ever done.”
“I left the country knowing two other students on the trip and I came back with 21 really close friends—some of whom I still talk to every single day.”
The students also had opportunities to explore Hertford and London, both on their own and with Hertford’s Resident Assistants. “It was almost unbelievable, seeing the history and the buildings in person that you only ever see pictures of. To be right there was incredible,” says Ahlquist. “Just walking the streets of Oxford in the morning made you excited to wake up and go to class.”
Being able to experience another culture on their own terms was an eye-opening opportunity, says Mirecki, and one that has practical rewards as well. “My major is in Financial Services, so I’ll need to be able to work with clients from all over the world,” he explains. “International travel, and not just learning about people from other countries but actually talking with them and living with them, is so incredibly valuable.”
During the trip, the Bryant students lived in the Hertford college dorms and the Hertford Resident Assistants provided guidance and support. "The entire college was amazing at making us feel welcome and helping us have a true Oxford experience,” notes Turner.
The program also helped the cohort to bond with one another. “I left the country knowing two other students on the trip and I came back with 21 really close friends—some of whom I still talk to every single day," says Scherner. "A trip like the Oxford trip helps you make friends for life.”
The students made other Bryant connections as well. President Gittell joined the group to lead a session alongside Fletcher and talked with the students about their experiences before accompanying them to a networking session. The students also connected with Bryant alumni living and working in London. “It was really great to see all of the paths the alumni had taken to lead them to London, and to see what paths might be open to me,” Scherner says.
“It’s hard to get across how amazing that part of the trip was,” she says. “You have the chance to learn from people you would never get the opportunity to learn from at Bryant, and you meet new people that you literally probably would never cross paths with.”
A transformative experience
Encouraging the students to explore new ideas and opportunities, Lewis says, was a key element of the trip. “Study Abroad provides students the opportunity to leave their comfort zone, gain a sense of independence, practice real-world skills, and immerse themselves in new cultural experiences,” she notes.
"To grow as a person and as a leader you need to push yourself,” Butler suggests. “The Oxford trip offered a condensed, rapid period of personal, academic, and social growth, and when the students completed it, they could say, ‘Oh wow, this has been an amazing experience.’”
“The trip was an incredible experience that somehow even surpassed the hype. And I would do it again in a heartbeat.”
The program, says Turner, was a transformative experience. “I have expanded my global and cultural awareness, networked, discovered personal interests and gained important leadership skills and knowledge,” she reflects. “Traveling around England has helped me develop my cultural awareness and allowed me to interact with so many people from all over the globe.”
Taking part in the opportunity, says Ahlquist, also provided a gateway for further exploration. “That was one of the most important things I’ve learned," he states. "It opened my eyes to not be afraid to take that next step and made me realize I can do so much more.”
“The trip was an incredible experience that somehow even surpassed the hype,” Ahlquist states. “And I would do it again in a heartbeat.”