A new fund named for Professor Emeritus Dr. Richard Burke may send two Westover Fellows abroad for the first time: graphic design major Isaiah Romsdahl ’24 and history major Jacob Jones ’25. Romsdahl is planning to join a spring break trip to Europe, while Jones hopes to travel to Mexico this summer.
Dr. Beth Savage, dean of the Westover Honors College, created the Richard C. Burke Study Abroad Fund for Westover Fellows to help students afford one study abroad trip during their time as Westovers.
“Because Westover privileges experiential learning, and one of our academic pillars is globalization, study abroad experiences are the best way to combine those values,” Savage said.
“However, many students are unable to afford these experiences. I don’t want any student to be excluded from learning opportunities because of financial or familial circumstances, so we started this fund.
“My goal is to eventually raise enough that we can send an entire class of Westovers abroad. Another positive about this fund for donors is that every dollar they contribute goes directly to a student’s study abroad fees.”
Savage said there are “many reasons” she wanted to name the fund for Burke. “When I was a newly hired faculty member in the English department, Rich immediately reached out to me and became a kind and supportive mentor; I know he has served as a mentor for many faculty in the same way.
“I also think Rich personifies what it means to be a global citizen — both academically and personally, he is incredibly engaged with the broader world. As a Fulbright recipient, he returned to his host country with Lynchburg students and facilitated connections between students at Lynchburg and students in his host country.
“Even after retirement, he has helped the Fulbright Council on campus to prepare students for the Fulbright application process. He and his wife, Beth, continue to travel all over the world, immersing themselves in the art, literature, and cultural norms of each location before they visit. I think they are inspiring examples of global citizenship.”
Burke, who retired in 2020 after teaching English at Lynchburg for 35 years, said it was a “wonderful surprise” when Savage asked if she could name the fund in his honor.
He remembers his own study abroad experiences fondly and looks back with pride at the many adventures he embarked on with Lynchburg students.One stands out in particular — a trip he made with “three of our brightest students in 2019 to Kazakhstan.” The Kazakh-American Free University, where Burke taught as a Fulbright Scholar in 2017, was holding an international forum on contemporary world issues to celebrate its 25th anniversary.
“Our students gave scholarly presentations on research projects they had undertaken,” Burke recalled. “All three of our students did brilliantly during the conference. They also talked, learned, joked, sang, explored the city, and had a terrific time with students from several countries.
“I was very proud of our students, and I was so glad that they were able to have this weeklong experience of an unfamiliar part of the world.”
It’s exactly the kind of feeling Romsdahl, a Miami native, who pays his tuition from summer jobs, is looking for in his own study abroad adventure.
“I find travel to be a great way to get to know oneself better, as well as foster growth at the same time,” he said. “Being surrounded by sights, smells, sounds, tastes, languages, and people that are foreign to what I know and surround myself with inspires a lot of self reflection and thought.
“As an artist, I believe that exploring new places is a great way to solve some of the creator’s block that I might have, and I believe that studying abroad will inspire a lot of project ideas, as well as influence the projects I am working on currently.”
Having never actually traveled outside the U.S., Romsdahl isn’t sure what to expect, but he’s looking forward to one stop in particular. “I guess I’m most excited to be near and see the Swiss Alps, as I can’t really fathom how something that beautiful must look in real life,” he said.
In addition to visiting Switzerland, Romsdahl also will see Germany and parts of France and Liechtenstein. According to Assistant Director of the Westover Honors College Dr. Price Blair, who’s leading the trip, it’s going to be “an amazing, whirlwind tour.”
The trip is part of his Westover Honors colloquium Frankenstein and the Science of Synthetic Biology, which has students study the novel “Frankenstein,” analyze its many themes, study author Mary Shelley’s life, and explore the scientific developments that influenced her.
Students also watch numerous cinematic depictions of Frankenstein — or movies with Frankenstein themes — and explore modern “Frankenstein science.”
During the trip, students will “hike around the ruins of the original Castle Frankenstein in Darmstadt, Germany, which Mary Shelley likely visited in the summer of 1816,” Blair said.
“We’re visiting Ingolstadt, Germany, and touring the university where the fictional Victor Frankenstein studied and performed his infamous experiments.
“We’re [also] visiting Dachau concentration camp, outside of Munich, and using this as an opportunity to talk about the detrimental effects of alienation and turning someone else into an ‘other.’”
The trip is sure to add another exciting layer to Romsdahl’s already rich Lynchburg experience. A Spanish minor and sculpture assistant in the art department, he also is a Vector Space member and is on the makerspace’s Power Wheels Racing Team.
“My experience in the Westover Honors College has been full of surprises,” he said. “I have been challenged intellectually and forced — in a good way — to reconsider the way I think, act, and put myself forward in the world and determine why I do the things I do, and whether or not I should keep doing them the way I have.
“I believe that the Westover Honors College has provided me with a large opportunity to grow as a human being and student.”
Because Romsdahl is a senior, any funds raised will go to him first. As of the deadline for this article, his trip was almost fully funded. Additional funds raised will go toward Jones’s trip to Oaxaca, Mexico, which is led by Spanish professor Dr. Tammy Hertel and history professor Dr. Nichole Sanders.
The three-week summer program includes a Mexican history and culture class and a Spanish language class, as well as excursions to various cultural, historical, and tourism sites.
“What I’m most looking forward to is living with the Mexican host family,” said Jones, a first-generation student from Appomattox, Virginia. “While one can simply stay in a hotel, I’m especially looking forward to the host family, simply because it is a continuous immersion of culture, since you are constantly around citizens who are products of it, and active participants in the culture.”
Like for Romsdahl, this would be Jones’s first time abroad, and he can name a number of reasons to go.
“Academically, studying abroad allows me to experience another culture firsthand, and bring altering perspectives to the classroom, rather than simply reading about it,” said Jones, who has minors in sociology, Africana studies, and law and society. “Personally, traveling and studying abroad allows me to create a memorable experience that I can reflect on for years to come.
“As for the professional side, it goes hand in hand with my academic growth. The experience of traveling and studying abroad allows me to broaden my perspectives, and potentially discover or study a new subject that complements my current studies.”
On campus, Jones is highly involved. He’s the president of Man2Man, the external vice president of Alpha Psi Lambda, a member of the Phi Alpha Theta National History Honor Society, a Westover Honors College ambassador for his class, a Connections Leader, and a CHAMPS peer mentor.
“I can confidently say that the Westover Honors College has supplemented and facilitated my growth during college,” Jones said. “I’ve taken advantage of every opportunity that has been a product of said growth, and I wouldn’t change my experience in the slightest.”
After college, Jones plans to attend graduate school in sociology or history, “although I find myself largely leaning toward the sociology route,” he admitted. “I hope to become an academic in the future, in order to contribute to my chosen field of study by way of teaching, mentoring, and researching.”
The Richard C. Burke Study Abroad Fund for Westover Fellows is an ongoing fundraising project. Priority is given to seniors who are first-generation students or otherwise experiencing financial hardships that do not allow them to study abroad.
Next priority will be given to juniors, sophomores, and first-year Westover Fellows who are first-generation students or otherwise experiencing financial hardships that do not allow them to study abroad. Final priority will go to students who have not yet had an opportunity to travel abroad.
“Study abroad is great for every student, but the reality is that these trips cost money,” Burke said. “The trips sponsored by the University are usually terrific bargains, but the trips are nonetheless costly. I’m delighted that this new travel fund will make foreign study possible for students who would otherwise miss a wonderful opportunity.”
Visit lynchburg.edu/give to support the Richard C. Burke Study Abroad Fund for Westover Fellows.