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TESOL professor at KU studies impact of study abroad opportunities, or lack of

March 19, 2015

Assistant Professor M’Balia Thomas joined the Department of Curriculum and Teaching at the University of Kansas in August 2014. One of her goals at the KU School of Education is to be sure that students study abroad. Thomas, who traveled to Santiago, Chile as an undergraduate and completed a Master’s degree in Madrid, Spain, is concerned by the low percentage of US higher education students who participate in study abroad programs in any year– less than 2% (Thomas 2013). She is especially motivated by the perception that this low rate of participation is a particular issue for minority students. The problems shared across racial and ethnic groups, such as fitting in degree requirements for graduation and financial limitations, often go unaddressed, while problems that may be specific to racial and ethnic groups are underexplored. 

Thomas addresses this topic in her published work, The Problematization of Racial/Ethnic Minority Student Participation in U.S. Study Abroad, which is currently on display in the KU’s Watson Library as part of the exhibit, Contested American Identities. The presentation features the scholarship of KU faculty members, staff and students and takes an interdisciplinary look at the struggle for multiple identities through the lenses of race, class, gender, sexuality and ability. An opening reception for the exhibit was held on February 19th, 2015 in Watson. The exhibition will run through September 4, 2015.

Currently, Thomas is exploring the role of visual images, desire and imagination in study abroad and the connection between these images, the messages they promote, and the lack of participation among specific categories of students. An initial presentation of this work (Globalization, the Visual Imaginary and the Challenge to Promote and Diversify US Study Abroad) was presented as a part of the Merienda Brown-Bag Lectures, hosted by the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences Center for Latin American & Caribbean Studies in early March 2015.

Thomas holds a Ph.D. in Second Language Acquisition and Teaching from the University of Arizona. As an Applied Linguist, she investigates the social uses of language by speakers of English as a second/foreign language. Her work adopts a critical and social theoretical approach to topics in these areas. Specifically, she explores the effects of discourse and language ideologies on the interaction, performance and stylization of language among these speakers. Additionally, her interest in discourse is expressed through research that explores the discursive and visual manifestations of power in second / foreign language education as they relate to issues of race/ethnicity, socioeconomic status, gender and space in study and travel abroad. It is from within this area of scholarship that Thomas presents the above work.

For more information about Thomas and her work, visit her faculty page at

The Department of Curriculum & Teaching is housed in the KU School of Education, located in Lawrence, Kansas.  The KU School of Education is a nationally-ranked School, preparing educators and health/sport/exercise professionals as leaders.

10th among public universities for its master’s and doctoral programs
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#1 public program in nation for special education
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Assists public schools and other partners in all 105 Kansas counties
$938,377 in scholarship funds awarded to 420+ students
Research expenditures of $36,804,773 for 2011-12
Research from KU’s largest grant, the $24.5 million SWIFT project, assists educators, children, and families across the United States
The award-winning special education faculty published 140 refereed articles, 11 books, and 60 chapters in 2015-16
Students with intellectual disabilities are participating in KU undergraduate programs through a grant-funded KU special education program
Researchers on a $3.5 million grant are collecting data on an innovative reading program designed to teach reading to students with the most significant disabilities in seven Kansas school districts
One of 34 U.S. public institutions in the prestigious Association of American Universities
44 nationally ranked graduate programs.
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Top 50 nationwide for size of library collection.
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