Faculty/Staff Leadership & Participation

Program Leadership 


While leading an education abroad program can be demanding, it can also be incredibly rewarding. Leaders have a front-row seat to students’ transformation, and many students will remember the program as their “best experience in college.” It is important to clearly define the roles and responsibilities of each traveler associated with a UNL education abroad program, both among the leadership team and for the participating students.

Leader Characteristics

Before proposing a program, prospective leaders are encouraged to reflect on whether they are prepared and committed to lead a program in the coming year. In addition, chairs and deans/designees are encouraged to use the following guidelines and criteria when approving program proposals.

Ideally, a leader:

  • Is well-liked and/or well-respected by students. Positive student evaluations for past UNL courses and/or education abroad programs can be a helpful indicator. Students will consider traveling to a relatively unknown or challenging location if they think highly of the leader.
  • Has spent time in the host location(s). At a minimum, the leader should have done an in-depth site visit, but preferably the leader will have visited the location(s) on multiple occasions or spent time living there.
  • Knows the host language (if applicable), as well as the cultural and social norms of the host culture.
  • Understands and embraces the “student support” aspects of program leadership: setting clear expectations, promoting positive group dynamics and inclusion, responding to student crises, etc.
  • Will be present and available in Nebraska, during the student recruitment, preparation, and post-program phases, and be present and available in the host location(s) for the full duration of the program.
  • Has a fairly permanent employment status at UNL and plans to remain at UNL for at least one semester after the conclusion of the program.

Composition of Leadership Team

A student-to-leader ratio of 10:1 can be used as a general benchmark in determining the minimum and maximum student enrollment goals. Ideally, the ratio should not be less than 5:1 or greater than 15:1. However, leadership teams and enrollment goals vary widely and are based on many aspects: academic course content, location, logistical details, on-site partner(s) and financial considerations, some of which vary by department and college. Leaders should consult with their departments and colleges about minimum student enrollment numbers.

The primary leader should be a UNL faculty member with academic expertise in the program’s field(s) of study. A qualified UNL lecturer, instructor, Ph.D. candidate, or staff member may be approved to serve as the primary leader at the discretion of the sponsoring unit. The primary leader is typically the instructor of record for the UNL course associated with the program. If the primary leader does not have a fairly permanent status at UNL, there should also be a UNL faculty/staff member designated as "Program Director" to provide program oversight.

The leadership team and the on-site partner(s) should have complementary characteristics and skills. The most effective way to “bridge a gap” associated with local knowledge, host language skills, and student support is to work with a professional education abroad organization.

In addition to the primary faculty leader, the leadership team may include one or more co-leader(s):

  • Another UNL faculty leader: Depending on the nature of the program, two faculty members may choose to teach in alternate years, co-teach one course, or offer two or more distinct courses to serve students from different academic units. 

  • A UNL staff leader: Some faculty leaders invite a departmental or college advisor, an Education Abroad staff member, or a Student Affairs professional to co-lead, often assuming duties associated with student support, financial management, and cross-cultural understanding. Staff leaders’ travel expenses are often incorporated into the program budget, but have also been paid by the supporting college, department, school or academic unit. A staff leader will not typically expect a payment specific to their role as a program leader, as the experience is aligned with their duties on campus or is a professional development experience. Some supervisors may request a buy-out of the staff member’s time. 

  • A UNL graduate assistant/graduate/doctoral student: The opportunity to co-lead may be offered to a full-time UNL graduate (not undergraduate) student who is uniquely qualified to co-lead the program. The opportunity should not be offered simply as a reward or “perk.” The faculty leader should put in writing the expectations, limitations, duties, and privileges of the assistantship, and both the leader and assistant should sign the contract. The department or college should complete the hiring paperwork for the assistant. A labor stipend is optional, and may be incorporated into the program budget or paid by the department/college/school/unit.

  • A faculty leader at a partner institution: Some programs run in tandem with other universities to share logistical support. The leaders at the two institutions might agree to co-teach the course and/or serve as back-up leaders to students from the other institution.

  • A non-UNL leader: While rare, some faculty leaders invite a technical expert not affiliated with UNL on a permanent basis to serve as an academic co-leader. The UNL faculty leader should put in writing the expectations, limitations, duties, and privileges of the expert, and both the UNL leader and expert should sign the agreement. The supporting unit should complete the hiring paperwork for the expert. An expert’s travel expenses and/or labor stipend may be paid by the expert, incorporated into the program budget, or paid by the supporting unit. The expert must also attend the “Health, Safety and Student Conduct” workshop offered by the Education Abroad Office and the Office of Global Strategies to understand University policies and procedures.

It is important to clearly define the roles and responsibilities of each leader associated with the faculty-led program, both among the leadership team and for the participating students. Leaders should discuss the principal responsibilities of the program and discuss who is responsible for each task prior to departure.