University of Arizona Awarded IDEAS Grant from the U.S. Department of State’s Capacity Building Program for U.S. Study Abroad

May 18, 2021

Grant will expand the Navigating Education in Borderlands Program (NEBP), a program through which UArizona students can build cultural competencies and learn about the history, people, and culture from the intersecting borderlands area.


The University of Arizona has been selected to receive an IDEAS (Increase and Diversify Education Abroad for U.S. Students) grant from the U.S. Department of State’s Capacity Building Program for U.S. Study Abroad. The University of Arizona (UArizona), a Hispanic-Serving Institution (HSI), is one of 26 colleges and universities from across the United States, selected from 132 applicants, to create, expand, and/or diversify American student mobility overseas in support of U.S. foreign policy goals. This U.S. Government program is funded by the U.S. Department of State and supported in its implementation by World Learning.

The $35,000 IDEAS grant will expand the institution’s Navigating Education in Borderlands Program (NEBP), a program through which UArizona students will build cultural competencies and learn about the history, people, and culture from the intersecting borderlands area where UArizona resides. The program seeks to utilize the institution’s positionality and expertise to offer a signature study abroad program on the Borderlands that will engage traditionally marginalized undergraduate students such as black, indigenous people of color (BIPOC), first-generation, low-income, and DACA students.

The IDEAS Grant will support capacity building efforts including program re-design with COIL and Border Pedagogy, conducting recruitment efforts, and strengthening collaborations that will take the NEBP from being a one-time summer program to being a distinguished educational offering at UArizona.

The Navigating Education in Borderlands Program was co-developed with the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill and University of Sonora-Mexico, and hosted at the University of Arizona in collaboration with the Department of Mexican American Studies (MAS) and Native Nations Institute (NNI) and other partners such as the Mexican Consulates in Tucson and Douglas. The IDEAS proposal was developed across  Mexico Initiatives, Global Experiential Learning and Digital Learning on the University of Arizona campus.

Nadia Alvarez Mexia, IDEAS Grant Awardee, UArizona

“The U.S. Department of State is committed to expanding study abroad opportunities for Americans of all backgrounds studying at colleges and universities across the United States. Americans studying abroad serve as citizen ambassadors by building relationships within their host communities, demonstrating American values, and countering stereotypes. They also gain critical job skills abroad that in turn benefit their home communities. We are committed to continuing our strong support for U.S. colleges and universities as they build their study abroad capacity now, in anticipation of a strong return to U.S. student mobility in the future,” said Heidi Manley, USA Study Abroad Chief, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.

Leading the four-member grant recipient team is University of Arizona’s Nadia Alvarez Mexia, PhD. Alvarez Mexia serves as the director of Mexico Programs, Mexico Initiatives within the Office of Arizona Global, and is an assistant professor of practice in teaching/learning and sociocultural studies in the College of Education. Alvarez Mexia is a member of the first cohort of the University of Arizona’s Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI) Fellows, and is an Academic Leadership Institute (ALI) Fellow (2020-21). She is dedicated to creating safe learning spaces and remarkable academic experiences that have brought recognition from the University of Arizona, as well as from NAFSA in the U.S. and institutions of higher education in Mexico. Since 2018, Alvarez Mexia has been coordinating, co-mentoring and designing learning-experiential activities for the Navigating Education in Borderlands program.

Melody Buckner, IDEAS Grant Awardee, UArizona

As the associate vice provost for digital learning and online initiatives at the University of Arizona, Melody Buckner, PhD will coordinate and develop the digital learning aspects of the COIL model for the Navigating Education in Borderlands Program. Buckner, who has served as Interim Dean of UA South (the branch campus on the US/Mexico border and the home of the College of Applied Science and Technology for the University of Arizona), brings her expertise in research and teaching in the areas of educational technology, digital and creative literacies, multicultural education and cross-border youth development programs.

Dan Xayaphanh, MEd is the founding and current director of Global Experiential Learning (GEL) under Diversity & Inclusion at the University of Arizona. Xayaphanh has created over 30 unique GEL programs since 2016 that integrates travel, multicultural education, and service learning to provide diverse and inclusive experiences domestically and internationally. He is a UArizona Academic Leadership Institute (ALI) Fellow (2020-21). As a part of a land-grant, research intensive Hispanic Serving Institution, Xayaphanh established the GEL program to be affordable and accessible to all students with a focus on historically marginalized populations such as low-income, first generation, DACA, and students of color.

Dan Xayaphanh, IDEAS Grant Awardee, UArizona

Also on the grant team is Sandra Bernal, PhD., a lecturer in the College of Architecture, Planning, and Landscape Architecture (CAPLA) at the University of Arizona, who brings her experience in the arid regions on the border between Arizona and Sonora. Bernal is a member of the third cohort of the University's Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI) Fellows (2020-21). Bernal will contribute to the design of online learning environments and tools that will enhance the NEBP, using the frameworks and standards of Quality Matters and Collaborative Online International Learning (COIL) for educational purposes offering an alternative to in-person classes. 

The IDEAS Program seeks to increase the capacity of accredited U.S. colleges and universities to create, expand, and diversify study abroad programs for U.S. students. In addition to the IDEAS grant competition, the program also offers opportunities for faculty, staff, and administrators at U.S. colleges and universities to participate in a series of free virtual and in-person study abroad capacity building activities.

Sandra Bernal, IDEAS Grant Awardee, UArizona

“I believe that connecting different cultures, worlds, realities, academic fields and backgrounds can give us a better sense of this world and can help us understand and appreciate different contexts,” said Alvarez Mexia. “The IDEAS grant will help us continue the important work we are doing to build understanding and bridge cultures that we have already started here at the University of Arizona, and continuously improve how we educate and innovate.”

For a full list of 2021 IDEAS grant recipients, as well as information on a free IDEAS webinar series on building study abroad resources for U.S. campuses, please visit the Capacity Building Program for U.S. Study Abroad website at . Funded projects are supporting such activities as developing new international partnerships and programs, training faculty and staff, internationalizing curriculum, creating resources to engage diverse student groups in study abroad and creating virtual exchanges. Once international travel resumes in full, these IDEAS grant recipients will be better equipped to deliver impactful and inclusive study abroad programs around the globe. 

For further information about other study abroad resources and other exchange programs offered by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, please contact and visit

For information about the IDEAS grant for Navigating Education in Borderlands Project, contact Dr. Nadia Alvarez Mexia.


The University of Arizona, a land-grant university with two independently accredited medical schools, is one of the nation's top public universities, according to U.S. News & World Report. Established in 1885, the university is widely recognized as a student-centric university and has been designated as a Hispanic Serving Institution by the U.S. Department of Education. The university ranked in the top 20 in 2018 in research expenditures among all public universities, according to the National Science Foundation, and is a leading Research 1 institution with $687 million in annual research expenditures. The university advances the frontiers of interdisciplinary scholarship and entrepreneurial partnerships as a member of the Association of American Universities, the 65 leading public and private research universities in the U.S. It benefits the state with an estimated economic impact of $4.1 billion annually. For the latest on the University of Arizona response to the novel coronavirus, visit the university's COVID-19 webpage.