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magazine home > archives > fall 2005 > features

Thanks to a travel fund created by a U of M graduate, professors and students are finding their way to foreign lands for study and research.

A world of wonder
by Matt Timberlake

U of M alumnus Philip Donovan has seen the world — almost all of it. In the late 1990s, the senior vice president at FTN Financial and his wife, Pamela, daughter, Elizabeth, and son, Thomas, all withdrew from their work and school obligations for six months and circled the globe. Taking planes, boats and buses — anything that was headed most anywhere — the four visited cities like Vienna and Bombay and far-flung postcard-esque locales one reads about in National Geographic, places like the ancient Pyramids of Egypt and the hot Thailand countryside.

  Joyner in Japan

Philip Donovan's generosity to the University in the form of a travel fund he created has enhanced the learning experiences of many U of M students, including junior Sally Joyner (front row standing, second from left) who traveled to Japan for a semester to study Japanese.

The experience left a deep impression on Donovan. Traveling from city to city, nation to nation, speaking with people of all sorts and shapes, he saw a richer picture of the world than could be gleaned from lectures and bubble tests. Back in the United States, he found himself at a meeting of the advisory board for the College of Arts and Sciences. Having earned his bachelor's degree in Business Administration in 1978 and an MBA in 1982, Donovan knew he wanted to make the University of Memphis a better place. But it wasn't until a conversation with Dr. Henry Kurtz, dean of arts and sciences, that his love for travel and the University became one concept.

"Dean Kurtz pointed out the need for travel funds for students and faculty at the U of M," says Donovan. "In thinking about giving to the University, it seemed that a pool of money for travel would serve the U of M well."

According to University figures, 80 percent of incoming freshmen are Shelby County residents, and about the same number stay in the area after graduation. Part of any enlightening college experience is to understand the intricate workings of the world at large, and study abroad programs are the most obvious way to achieve that goal.

With Donovan's thoughtful gift, arts and sciences in early summer of 2004 was able to establish the Donovan Travel Enrichment Fund, which is available to faculty members and students in arts and sciences. Applicants submit a rationale for their travel plans and money is given to those with the most need, and the most to gain, from their proposed adventures. Students must have a minimum grade-point average of 3.25 and be enrolled full time, while instructors must be tenured or tenure-track faculty members.

U of M junior Sally Joyner was one of the first students to take advantage of the fund. Joyner, an English major with a concentration in linguistics, is minoring in Japanese and geology. Thanks to the fund, she was able to travel to Japan this past summer to study at Nagoya Gakuin University in Seto, Japan. Without money from outside sources, her semester overseas would have been impossible and she would have missed out on a vital part of her language education.

"I've studied Japanese in Memphis for six years," says Joyner. "But it is nearly worthless when there's no chance to speak it outside of class."

Any foreign language instructor would agree that for a serious language student, immersion is eventually necessary. Besides constantly hearing and using the language, participating in the culture on a daily basis is an invaluable experience.

Laumann in Cuba  

Dr. Dennis Laumann, assistant professor of African history and director of the Ghana Study Abroad Program, was able to conduct research in Cuba because of the Donovan Travel Fund.

"Nothing could have taken the place of making friends in the dorms with people from Japan, China, Australia, Malaysia," says Joyner. "Every day was something new and foreign to me: going to a restaurant in Nagoya with my teachers, watching a sumo tournament, six straight hours of karaoke ... I never could have done those things in a class at the U of M."

Even the smallest details of life became learning exercises, according to Joyner. "Simply reading menus at restaurants and trying to understand the knobs on the air conditioning unit in my dorm were more valuable than a mountain of worksheets," she says.

The travel fund also has helped U of M professors reach far-off destinations for up-close, personal study in their fields of interest. Dr. Dennis Laumann, assistant professor of African history and director of the Ghana Study Abroad Program, has benefited greatly from the fund. Moneys from the account have helped his students travel to Ghana to participate in the program. Laumann himself has taken advantage of the fund, getting a grant to visit Cuba for research.

"As a historian," says Laumann, "my work depends on regular extended visits abroad. The Donovan Travel Fund has allowed me to carry out research in Cuba vital to my writing and teaching duties at the University of Memphis."
Still a relatively new program, the benefits of the fund will only increase as more donors invest. "We've just completed a brochure to recruit more people for donations," says Donovan. "We want to get as many people involved as possible so we can satisfy as many needs as possible.

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