Having worked at IES Abroad for more than a decade, Carrie Rackers Cunningham is leading the way in study abroad research in her new role as the Director of Institutional Research at IES Abroad.
Carrie has worked with almost all IES Abroad constituents – advising students preparing to go abroad; serving as the liaison to university partners; developing customized and faculty-led programs with faculty; and implementing assessment procedures and standards for academic programs. This unique blend of experiences allows Carrie to bring a practical lens to the research efforts she leads.
Having been in her role only a short time, Carrie’s work has already been recently published in The PIE News for her op-ed that discusses the importance of collecting more hard data on the link between study abroad and employability, to help practitioners speak the language of employment. This op-ed follows Carrie’s extensive work on her career benefits of studying abroad research.
Carrie’s work has also been published in the series Comparative Histories of Education, and she has presented at the Comparative and International Education Society (CIES) Annual Conference and the IES Abroad Annual Conference. Carrie earned a M.A. in Comparative International Education from Loyola University Chicago, where she was awarded Thesis of the Year for outstanding scholarship, and a B.A. in Business Administration and Marketing from the University of Missouri-Columbia. She currently sits on the Data Committee for the Forum of Education Abroad.
As she settles into her new role, we asked her a few questions about what excites her about research, what she’s currently working on, her favorite number (yes, she has one!), and the best place she’s visited abroad.
IES Abroad: How do you think your previous roles/experience at IES Abroad has helped you in your current role?
Carrie Rackers Cunningham (CRC): There are so many ways my previous roles at IES Abroad help with the work I am doing now. For starters, it has given me a basis for understanding how information is used by different stakeholders within the organization, and where there may be voids that could be filled.
Knowing what it is like to stand behind a table at a fair and field student questions, discuss how to build a customized program with faculty, or sit in the office of a university president and advocate for incorporating education abroad into the school’s overall mission – these are all skills that help to inform my research questions and conceptualize the best way to present information to others.
IES Abroad: Tell us a bit about your current role, what are you working on, what does the role entail?
CRC: On any given day of the year, my office is collecting information – end-of-term evaluations, predeparture surveys, withdrawal surveys, Membership surveys, alumni surveys, market research, etc. There is literally always new data coming in for us to explore. My job is to take all of this information, analyze the data, and see if it tells us anything that can help to inform our day-to-day business needs and strategic goals.
One of the projects I am working on right now is an investigation into first generation students in study abroad, an issue that holds a lot of personal importance to me. I was a first generation student (my dad never graduated from high school and neither of my parents went to college) who assumed study abroad was not an option – one of the few decisions I’ve made in life that I still regret. I am hopeful that the research we are doing now will help inform the discussion about first generation students and pave the way for ideas to improve access and participation.
This fall, in addition to the IES Abroad Annual Conference in October, I plan to bring my research to the Generation Study Abroad Summit, and the NAFSA Region V Conference.
IES Abroad: What excites you about research within the study abroad field? Or research in general?
CRC: At the risk of sounding like a nerd, what’s NOT to be excited about?! In some ways, research is a lot like travel – you approach a question not exactly sure of what it will be like or where it will lead you; you have to pay attention to the little details; sometimes you end up lost on a path and have to turn around; and, if you are lucky, you come to the end of it with a deeper level of understanding and insight.
IES Abroad: Where is your favorite place to which you’ve traveled abroad, and where would you like to go next that you haven’t been to before?
CRC: The place that is etched most firmly into my memory is a remote beach in Benin (West Africa) called Grand Popo. It is a breathtakingly beautiful, darkly historic place with a spirit that seeped into my soul and never quite left. Next up, I’d love to spend some time in an area of northern Germany right along the border of the Netherlands called Twist. Most of my family heritage can be traced to this region, and I would absolutely love to see the place and do a bit of heritage seeking.
IES Abroad: What is the most important lesson you have learned in your career?
CRC: Be curious, ask questions, and never presume to be the smartest person in the room – there is always something new to learn.
IES Abroad: Since you analyze data quite frequently … The REAL question is, do you have a favorite number? A favorite type of graph?
CRC: I haven’t figured out a favorite graph yet, but I definitely have a favorite number: 7. I was born in the 70’s, in the seventh month, I have seven brothers and sisters, I learned to water ski at 7 and snow ski at 27, I was married in 2007, and, in just a few weeks, my oldest is turning 7 (in 2017)….I’m pretty sure I need to play the lottery this year!
You can see more information on the IES Abroad Career Benefits Study on our Career Benefits page.