NAU receives award for innovative study abroad program that increases access to international opportunities

A student in the 2022 GCPS cohort plays with students in Quito, Ecuador.

For the second time, NAU has received a national award recognizing its innovative approach to study abroad. 

The university was selected for the 2024 IIE (Institute for International Education) Andrew Heiskell Award for Innovation in International Education, in the category Widening Access for International Education, for its Global Citizen Project Scholars (GCPS) program. 

GCPS is a collaboration between Education Abroad, the Honors College and the Economic Policy Institute that allows Honors, first-generation or Indigenous students to access affordable, high-impact study abroad opportunities. For a $900 program fee, students take a one-credit class on leadership, responsible volunteerism and engaging with the local and global community before taking a trip to either Ecuador, Italy or Vietnam for an experiential learning opportunity.   

“GCPS highlights local-global connections, community-building and global leadership,” said Yimin Wang, vice provost for global affairs at NAU. “It serves as an emblematic example of how NAU creates global learning programs that meet the needs of students with various levels of financial resources and connects students from all backgrounds and identities with global learning opportunities.” 

“Preparing students to be part of the global economy is a top priority for NAU, and a key piece of this work is to ensure students from all backgrounds, identities and lived experiences have opportunities for international work and study,” President José Luis Cruz Rivera said. “The GCPS is an exemplary program in this overarching effort, and I’m so pleased with IIE’s recognition of this critical work.” 

Spending time in Quito 

Katrina Nyugen helping to build a community garden in Quito, Ecuador.
Katrina Nyugen helping to build a community garden in Quito, Ecuador. Top photo: A student in the 2022 GCPS cohort plays with students in Quito, Ecuador.

In 2023, a cohort of GCPS students went to Quito, Ecuador, and spent time teaching English, building a community garden and doing other activities with local residents, including high school students.  

 Katrina Diu Nyugen, a second-year Honors College student majoring in strategic communications, said they participated in a discussion on gender inequality, met college students from Ecuador, visited the United Nations office in Quito and ziplined in the Cloud Forest. 

“GCPS reached my ideals of studying abroad where I could help a community, teach and learn all at the same time,” she said. “I wanted to have a global learning experience after my first year at NAU to grow leadership and help the community in Ecuador.” 

Junior Ky Fligg, who is majoring in public health and interested in volunteering with the Peace Corps in the future, said their favorite experience was planting trees with a group of local high schoolers. 

Idaly Monarrez Vega and her sister at a butterfly garden in Mindo. Ecuador.
Idaly Monarrez Vega and her sister at a butterfly garden in Mindo. Ecuador.

“This memory and countless others serving the community, learning about the culture and spending time with the amazing people that joined me on the trip made the experience the highlight of my college experience so far,” they said. 

Senior Idaly Monarrez Vega, who majored in elementary education and Spanish, went because she had always wanted to travel and learn about different cultures, even though this was the farthest she’d ever been from home. She and her sister went on the trip together. As someone preparing to be at eacher, she appreciated the opportunity to meet students at the schools they visited, discuss similar interests and learn from them.

“Making these connections with students in a different country impacted me in such a great way today,” she said. “Their stories, their laughter and their willingness to share their culture with me are so significant and unforgettable.”

How donors helped make this happen 

Two donors fund the GCPS at NAU through the Honors College: Michael Hagan of Oakland, California, who created the Sarah Henry Miller Fund for International Experience to support Honors students to study abroad, and the Honors Program Director’s Scholarship, an endowment created by the Dorrance Family Foundation to support Honors students with demonstrated financial need to participate in an international program of study. 

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Heidi Toth | NAU Communications
(928) 523-8737 |

NAU Communications