Texas A&M Academy Helps To Shape International Leaders
The Academy for Future International Leaders (AFIL) at Texas A&M University is a year-long high-impact program offering undergraduate students of all majors an opportunity to learn about global issues, to participate in an international project and fulfill the university commitment to life-long learning.
Ben Petty, the program coordinator, says that AFIL is unlike other international program because it allows students, especially those who might not otherwise have an opportunity, to have an international experience while at Texas A&M, to sharpen leadership skills while receiving an in-depth learning experience in international issues and global concerns.
The program itself has four major components – an academic seminar, a mentoring program, an international leadership challenge project and an optional international opportunity. The AFIL combines the development of leadership skills with a mentor experience and an intensive seminar devoted to current global issues.
The Academy is a joint effort among the university’s nine academic colleges and is coordinated through the Study Abroad Programs Office. It is designed to provide undergraduate students with the opportunity to learn about a wide range of topics with an international focus. Readings and class sessions cover topics of global importance, such as strategic issues facing the Middle East, national defense and global security, world energy resources and the environment, among others.
Bill Anderson, who was in AFIL in 1999, believes AFIL works and says it has helped his career. “The AFIL was a great program and was the catalyst for my current job and overseas living experience. The time spent discussing cultural context and history within the AFIL program is also valuable in modeling the understanding people must gain to successfully work abroad.”
For the mentoring program of AFIL, students are matched with a member of the Texas A&M International Advisory Board who has offered to provide students with guidance and support in developing the necessary skills for professional success in a global working environment.
Petty says AFIL makes every effort to match students with mentors who share their interests in a field of study. The mentors provide guidance to the AFIL students, and it is the responsibility of the student to take advantage of this unique learning opportunity.
The goal of the International Leadership Challenge Project component of AFIL is to give students a practical challenge in applying what they have learned and an opportunity to practice the international leadership skills they have acquired.
As the name implies, pairs of students are challenged to initiate and complete a realistic and sustainable project that will promote an international impact on campus and beyond.
The project begins in the fall semester when the academy students have the opportunity to meet a group of international students who lead some of the international student organizations on campus. The AFIL students must then take on the responsibility for developing a project proposal and leading the implementation of the project.
Some of the previous international leadership challenge projects have involved the successful construction and continued operation of a day-care center in Honduras, fundraising for tsunami victims, an international students’ cultural exchange spring break program at Texas A&M, and the establishment of the Texas A&M branch of Vets Without Borders.
According to Petty, AFIL students are also encouraged to participate in a variety of international experiences. Since the program is designed for undergraduates who might not have the time or money to study abroad, AFIL students can apply for the AFIL stipend to help with travel expenses. AFIL began in 1998 under the vision of the Texas A&M International Advisory Board, a group of leaders from a variety of fields who advise Texas A&M on matters of international outreach and collaboration. In addition, Petty says the Texas A&M Association of Former Students also helps by providing some financial support for AFIL stipends.
AFIL offers opportunities for international experiences such as a summer internship, a traditional study abroad program, a volunteer program or an intensive language study program, among other alternatives.
Since it began, AFIL has had a positive impact on participating students.
“I have learned more than I could have imagined about other cultures and about issues countries outside of the U.S. face,” said Belen Berdegue, AFIL class of 2012. “Because of this, I have learned why some people do what they do. I have learned how to become a better leader and how to carry out a project that before would have seemed out of my league. With the mentor program, I also learned about many things to that I need to think about for the future, such as how to balance work and family.”
For more on AFIL, go here.