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100 Passports

Group photo of middle schoolers with passports

Q&A: Global leadership director prepares middle schoolers for world travel

Group photo of middle schoolers with passports

During the fall 2018 semester, Devin Walker, director of the Global Leadership and Social Impact program, launched the 100 Passports initiative, which provides free passports to eighth-graders in Austin-area Title I middle schools that partner with the DDCE’s Neighborhood Longhorns Program.

We sat down with Walker—a seasoned world traveler who recently led the 2019 summer abroad cohort in Beijing—to learn more about his passion for world travel and how he is preparing students for their big overseas trip to China in 2020.

What inspired you to launch the 100 Passports initiative?

I wanted to start a program that could build off the great work the DDCE is doing at UT and leverage some of the university’s resources for the students in the community. A passport is an incredibly powerful document, but most kids don’t understand its value or know many folks who have one. I figured if they can identify and connect with me, I can help expose them to internationalization, traveling abroad and getting out of their comfort zone. The impact of study abroad on college students is so positive in terms of higher GPAs, higher graduation rates, higher self-efficacy and more self-confidence. I want to help them better understand who they are in this world—not just in America.

Why did you target eighth-graders for this initiative?

If the idea is that students do better academically when they study abroad, why are we starting with college students? Let’s reach out to kids when they’re about to enter high school. It’s not just about the passports; it’s about creating a culture where young people start to see themselves as global citizens. When we take the kids to China, they’re going to be about 14 or 15 years old, and I’m wondering what that’s going to be like for them when they come back and engage with their peers in high school. They’ll be able to speak about the other side of the world from personal experience. They will have traveled to places that their teachers and most Americans have never been to. That’s capital that will serve them as they navigate high school, the college admissions process and their futures.

What kind of feedback has the initiative received?

The feedback has been really positive. People are thanking me for doing the work. We have great partnerships in the community. Texas GEAR UP has been really supportive and has taken the lead in helping me establish a positive relationship in the schools. Now the students are starting to get their passports, so they’re excited. It’s amazing for their confidence. It’s great to see the ripple effects this experience can have on the students, their families and hopefully their communities.

Did you travel or study abroad during your upbringing?

I’m from L.A. Growing up in a Los Angeles neighborhood, oftentimes you only know what you see—and you don’t know what you don’t know. When you see the same things every day, you start to think this is what life is and this is all life can be. But my parents found ways to expose me to other things. They took my brothers and me camping and skiing. Just seeing different people and being in different environments and social climates gave me more confidence.

When I got to the University of Wisconsin, I studied abroad three different times. My third time was in Cape Town, South Africa. I remember climbing this mountain called Lion’s Head, and when I got to the top a lot of emotions hit me. I think it was the fact that I had finally reached the goal that I set for myself. Going to college and graduating college was a goal, but it’s more of a social or communal goal that your family wants, your community wants and your school wants. Everybody tells you to go to college, but not everyone tells you to go to Africa. That was my goal, and that was the first time I had ever reached one of my huge goals. It really hit me when I got to the top of the mountain. It was at that time that I set a new goal of helping young Black and Brown students travel the world.

What advice would you give these eighth graders as they continue their education?

Dream big, reimagine possibilities and think bigger than your current circumstances. Seek out greatness, seek out passion and try to make it happen. Think beyond your current circumstances. Understand why you’d want to do well in high school—there’s more out there for your future. Understand why you’d want to do well in college—not just to get a degree, but to provide yourself with opportunities that maybe aren’t available to people who don’t go to college. Write your own ticket to your future.

By David West