Study abroad inspires new scholarship

In 2021, we started to see a resumption of experiential learning activities, including study abroad. But just like before the pandemic, some students cannot access this opportunity due to the expensive nature of international travel. Thanks to the generosity of one Honors alumna, the Honors Program now has a new fund designed to help students overcome these financial barriers. 

“I could relate to these students because while I did get the chance to study abroad, I didn't come from a background that would have normally supported that,” said Shannon Banks, who created the new Be Leadership Study Abroad Fund. “I was very dependent on scholarships and my own jobs to get through university.” 

Banks (c ’94) knows more about studying abroad than most. Originally from Kansas, Banks first went abroad as an exchange student in Finland during her junior year of high school. Her parents previously hosted two exchange students who were brothers from the country, and their family invited her after her sixteenth birthday.  

“It was this amazingly long relationship between two families. It extended all the way until 2014 when the daughter of the eldest brother came and lived with my family in England for a year. She was 17, so it's been a multigeneration relationship, which is just great.” 

While at KU, Banks majored in both Magazine News and Slavic Language & Literature. The latter degree involved spending a semester in Russia. She then earned a Chevening Scholarship to pursue a master’s degree in Russian & East European Studies at the University of Birmingham in the United Kingdom. Banks notes how important these experiences can be in broadening one’s worldview.  

“I think the power of going abroad and studying abroad is that it creates this extra dimension of challenge and fascination around everyday experiences. I loved the ability to see things from a new perspective that even when I went home and saw my old life, I saw it from a new set of eyes.” 

After graduate school, Banks worked for software companies including McAfee and Microsoft. She later started her own consulting firm, Be Leadership, in 2015. The firm focuses on leadership development and talent management through experiential learning, including traveling abroad. She hopes more Honors students will have the chance to learn some of the same lessons she teaches clients.  

“One of the things we try to offer through Be Leadership is awareness around things we take for granted. So even the students who we're funding, who aren't necessarily of the greatest financial means, still probably have some advantages that they don't fully appreciate,” she said. “There's value in seeing what you've taken for granted.”