Inside HOKIE SPORTS | Vol. 10 No. 6 | June 2018

12 Inside Hokie Sports Passionate about traveling, Olivia Odle always had an interest in studying abroad, but never really expected to get the opportunity at Virginia Tech, given the demands that her schedule placed upon her as a result of her academic workload and as a member of the Virginia Tech women’s soccer team. Then a teammate, Jordan Hemmen, informed her about a course that she took, one that led to a group going to Rwanda, a small, landlocked country in Central Africa. “Due to the rigorous schedule of athletics, a semester studying abroad isn’t feasible,” Odle said. “So when I learned it [the trip] was only two weeks, I jumped on it. I was not very familiar with Rwanda and its history prior to knowing about this trip, and that made me even more eager to want to learn and take advantage of this chance.” So Odle, a Matthews, North Carolina native pursuing a degree in business management, ultimately became part of a small contingent of Virginia Tech student-athletes, students and administrators who traveled to Rwanda in late May as part of UAP 3984: Sport, Policy and Society—a study abroad course that explores different sectors of international development and how sports can support such development. Danny White, associate athletics director for student- athlete development, oversaw the course, with assistance from athletics department staff members Dr. Gary Bennett (sport psychologist) and Shelby Miller (coordinator of student-athlete development). Of the 15 students who went, 11 were student-athletes. That group included Odle, Marcelo Acuna (men’s soccer), Aaron Boyd (men’s swimming and diving), Charles Filby (men’s soccer), Jarrett Hopple (football), Jenna Beattie (women’s swimming and diving), Jessica Beattie (women’s swimming and diving), Baillie Cameron (women’s swimming and diving), Erin Scott (women’s swimming and diving), Amanda Swaak (women’s track and field), and Jaylyn Thompson (women’s soccer). They spent the majority of their two-week trip in Kigali, the capital of Rwanda. While there, they went to the Kigali Genocide Memorial, which honors the more than 250,000 people who were killed by a government-led faction during a three-month period in 1994. The group also met with officials from government organizations, non-governmental organizations and non-profit groups. Some of those included The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), World Vision, and Right to Play officials, all of whom are committed to broad-scale development in the country. In addition, they met with those who coordinate and run Kids Play International there. This non- profit outfit, formed by former Olympian Tracy Evans, works in the rural part of the country and focuses on gender equity, using sport in those areas to bring children together. “This year was probably the best overall set of meetings we’ve ever had,”White said. “It’s not just ameeting. Students are learning about what these organizations do in our class when I’m doing the teaching, but then they get to go and meet with representatives from these organizations. These people talk about their projects and where they work and who they work with. The learning starts to come full circle at that stage.” The group also mixed in a trip to the U.S. Embassy there in Rwanda and went on a safari tour at Akagera National Park. During the final four days, the students taught physical education classes to the children at the Kigali International Community School. White oversaw a class session each day, with the emphasis being on understanding international development and how sport aids in that development. The students read and wrote papers, and they participated in discussions about what they saw, and more importantly, learned that day. The mix of students makes for an interesting dynamic. Student- athletes often lack the time tominglewith the general student population, but this class offers that opportunity, which is a benefit to all. “I was honestly a little nervous to be on a trip with mostly athletes,” said Charlotte Rich, a Midlothian, Virginia native who is pursuing a degree in international studies. “Since I’m not a student-athlete, I thought that I wouldn’t get to know them very well since I didn’t have that [athletics] in common with them. Well, I was completely wrong. “I am more than thankful that I got to go through this with every single one of them. They are incredible people who have hearts for justice, and it was beautiful to see that in each of them. I know that they’ll be my friends for a long time.” This year marked the sixth consecutive one in which White has overseen a course and led Tech students abroad to expose them to other parts of the world and broaden their horizons. In that time frame, more than 100 student-athletes have traveled to places like the Dominican Republic, Switzerland and Rwanda. In the first four years, White guided groups to the Dominican Republic, where those who went ran sports camps, visited a local hospital constructed by the Virginia College of Osteopathic Medicine (VCOM), saw the living conditions in one of the poorest sections of the country, and more. Two years ago, he, Dr. Bennett and Miller took a contingent to Switzerland, which serves as the home of the International Olympic Committee and the former United Nations’ Office on Sport for Development and Peace. These people create the policies that use sport as a tool to improve development in under- developed nations. The past two years, he, Dr. Bennett and Miller have brought students to Rwanda. “Dr. [Timothy] Sands [Virginia Tech president] has placed an emphasis on experiential learning and international outreach,” White said. “The students are participating in the course, doing the readings I give them and the assignments I give them, but then they meet these high-level, high-caliber people who have given their lives to these very things we’re teaching these students. I can’t duplicate that, and you can’t beat it either. You could read a textbook all day, but if you meet with someone who is doing this on the other side of the world, their understanding is so much more impactful on our students.” The goal with this study abroad course is to challenge them and to expose them to the challenges that people in other parts of the world face to deepen their understanding. Hopefully, these young men and women feel compelled to go forth and make a difference. Small Tech contingent— which included11student-athletes — visits Rwanda as part of study abroad course by Jimmy Robertson