NMC-Colombia “Bridging Waterways across the Americas” project wins $27K grant

TRAVERSE CITY —  Northwestern Michigan College is the only community college in the nation to win a grant designed to enhance higher education partnerships between the United States and Colombia.

NMC’s project, "Bridging Waterways Across the Americas,” a collaboration between the college, the Inland Seas Education Association in Suttons Bay, the Universidad de la Salle and the Teusacá River Basin project in Colombia, was among 10 grant recipients announced June 3. 

Bridging Waterways will engage NMC Freshwater Studies students and faculty and their counterparts in the biology and environmental engineering undergraduate programs at La Salle in comparative environmental studies during the 2021-2022 academic year. Specifically, students will focus on freshwater resources in the Cuenca del Rio Teusacá (Bogotá, Colombia) and the Great Lakes region, seeking to identify local solutions to the global problem of adequate water resources.

“Bridging Waterways Across the Americas is a dream come true. We always envisioned the creation of an international network of students in water-related programs, local communities and professionals along the Americas working together to understand our water resources,” said Constanza Hazelwood, education and outreach coordinator at NMC’s Freshwater Studies Institute, and grant co-author.

Co-author Jim Bensley, director of the office of International Services and Service Learning, called the project another example of NMC’s innovative approach to building international partnerships to enhance student learning in the 21st century and to prepare learners for success in a global society and economy. NMC currently has existing partnerships with institutions/organizations in Indonesia, Brazil, China, Costa Rica, India, Canada and the UK. 

Virtual activities begin immediately. The approximately $27,000 award will culminate in field work next spring. Six NMC students and one faculty member will travel to Colombia in May 2022, and six La Salle students and one faculty member will visit Traverse City in June.

The U.S.-Colombia grant competition is supported by the 100,000 Strong in the Americas Innovation Fund, a public-private collaboration that originated in the Obama Administration between the U.S. Department of State, U.S. embassies, Partners of the Americas, NAFSA, corporations, and foundations. All the other recipients were four-year universities.

COVID-19 forced the cancellation of physical study abroad experiences in both 2020 and 2021. Yet also this month, NMC learned it is one of only eight community colleges nationwide to double study abroad participation between 2016-2020 through the Institute of International Education’s Generation Study Abroad initiative.

The accomplishment has garnered NMC the organization's Seal of Excellence. Out of 444 participating US institutions, 121 met their goals, including NMC.

Since 2013, when NMC established the Office for International Services and Service Learning,  the college has averaged 65-70 students annually, and has sent over 450 students and 30 faculty/staff on short-term academic study abroad opportunities to 20 different countries. The NMC Foundation’s Global Opportunities Fund, started by former NMC President Tim Nelson and Nancy Johnson, has helped reduce the cost for many students who may never have traveled outside the state of Michigan.

Costa Rica is one of the longest-established destinations in NMC’s study abroad portfolio. Students first traveled there in 2011 and worked with faculty at EARTH University in Limon. Eventually, EARTH is expected to participate in student exchange and research through the Bridging Waterways project, too. 

“Students and faculty experiencing their area of study in a country much different from the US has been a phenomenal experience,” Bensley said. “Not only do they return home as more confident global citizens, but they begin to ask questions and analyze problems with an ever expanding worldview.”  

In-person study abroad opportunities are tentatively planned to return in 2022, while virtual experiences continue to expand. This spring and summer, five NMC students have completed or are in the process of fulfilling virtual internships in India and Brazil. In addition, two visual communications students were recently chosen from a nationwide community college competition by the French embassy to participate in a three-week virtual boot camp exploring sustainable design in partnership with the Higher College of Decorative Arts in Paris, France.

Release date: JUNE 4, 2021

For more information:

Jim Bensley
Director, International Services and Service Learning
(231) 995-2527


Northwestern Michigan College is committed to a policy of equal opportunity for all persons and does not unlawfully discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, disability, genetic information, height, weight, marital status or veteran status in employment, educational programs and activities, and admissions. nmc.edu/non-discrimination