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Released August 25, 2003


HATTIESBURG - The precedent-setting blend of disciplines and the sense of exploration and adventure that made up the first year of The University of Southern Mississippi's Vietnam Studies Program are the focus of an article soon to be published in the world's premier studies-abroad journal.

The article, co-authored by Southern Miss faculty Dr. Raymond Scurfield, Dr. Andrew Wiest and five others, will appear in the next edition of Frontiers: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Study Abroad. The publication will garner worldwide attention for the cutting edge Vietnam Studies Program.

In addition to Wiest and Scurfield, Dr. Leslie Root, a Gulf Coast-based psychologist, and four Southern Miss graduate social work students lent their talents to the creation of the article, which focuses on the development, implementation and evaluation of the Vietnam Studies Program's first year.

In May, 2000, 16 students, five faculty and three Vietnam veterans traveled to Vietnam to embark on a unique journey through history. The trip was much more than just a tour of historical sites, as student and veteran interaction was built around visits to battlefields where the veterans themselves had fought.

In the ensuing years, the Vietnam Studies Program has grown into one of the world's premier study-abroad programs and one of Southern Miss' most recognized and honored undertakings.

Scurfield, a professor of Social Work at Southern Miss, is himself a Vietnam veteran. Prior to coming to Southern Miss, he had led veterans back to Vietnam to help them come to grips with their experiences there. He said that the type of discovery the Vietnam Studies Program pioneered - involving both students and veterans - was something unique in the field.

"You're not going to have that on the typical study-abroad program," Scurfield said. "You would be returning to the battlefields, obviously, but not with the people who had fought there right there with you. It was very powerful - for the students, veterans and faculty."

Wiest, a professor of history at Southern Miss, said that the uniqueness of the endeavor was something those involved in the program recognized at the time.

"We all knew we had lightning in a bottle to a certain degree," Wiest said. "We knew we had something different and special."

Wiest said that Scurfield and Root in particular recognized this and took care to develop a method of evaluating the program in way that would eventually grow into the upcoming Frontiers article. The students, faculty and veterans were presented with a set of questions before leaving for Vietnam and were evaluated again a short time after their return to the United States.

The responses yielded by the evaluations - which are detailed in the upcoming publication - gave an idea of the impact of the experience on individuals, as well as the overall effectiveness of the program.

Of the 16 students who participated, eight were graduate majors and eight were undergraduate history majors.

One student, who is unidentified in the article, remarked, "The trip was one of the most extraordinary experiences of my life. I highly recommend it. The only negative aspect was that it was too short."

Another student comment, which spoke particularly to the value of the studies

abroad concept was, "Visiting the battlefields, learning more about the war was so meaningful. It meant so much more to actually see the vets at the battlefields and hear their stories instead of sitting in a classroom listening to a lecture."

A veteran who participated in the program gave a quote that offered insight into the healing process that took place for him on the trip. "When I had thought about Vietnam in the past, it was always violence, noise and ugliness. Now it's everything it wasn't - peaceful, productive, friendly and fascinating. We didn't permanently cripple all the people or the country."

Wiest said that he and the other faculty who went on the trip learned a lot from the unprecedented combining of two disciplines - his field, history, and Scurfield's, social work.

Wiest said that the publication in Frontiers would help other universities by providing an example of a unique studies-abroad concept and would help Southern Miss by drawing attention to the Vietnam Studies Program.

"I think that what happened that year was the best example of what international education can do," Wiest said. "We had students and veterans together in the same place, which was utterly new.

"The students got to learn, and the vets got to learn as well."


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April 20, 2004 4:09 PM