Making History: UVU Students Study Abroad at Oxford

Story and photos by Hank McIntire

See photos here.

CCS Students Present at Oxford in July 2023Kaylee Bishop, right, and Yanna Andersen-Stanley present their research on women's suffrage July 28, 2023, at Pembroke College, Oxford University.

History Old and New

Oxford, England, is a place of historical significance. The university traces its beginnings to the year 1096 when classes were first taught there. It is the oldest English-speaking university in the world and is home to 39 separate colleges that comprise the Oxford system.

Modern history was made at Oxford in 1954 when Roger Bannister was the first to break the four-minute mile at Oxford University’s Iffley Road track. His strategy was to have teammates Chris Brasher and Chris Chataway pace him for three quarters of the race, and then Bannister took the lead on the final lap, crossing the finish line in a time of 3:59.4, just 0.6 seconds under the previously impossible-to-break four-minute barrier.

Utah Valley University’s history merged with Oxford’s when the Center for Constitutional Studies (CCS) established a research partnership with Pembroke College in 2015. The two have operated a joint study-abroad program since 2018, where UVU students attend classes on the storied Pembroke campus.

In late July–early August 2023, reminiscent of Bannister’s Oxford milestone, leaders and students from CCS ran their own version of a blistering pace combining participation in the study-abroad program and an academic conference, Constitution Writing and State Government in the American West, both held at Pembroke.

A total of 30 UVU students took part in two courses taught by UVU and Oxford faculty: Foundations of American Constitutionalism and Civic Thought & Leadership, which hosted 18 and 12 participants, respectively. Students got the full experience by living in the dormitories on campus and eating their meals at the Pembroke dining hall.

Ramping Up

Students’ Oxford study-abroad experience actually began weeks earlier on UVU campus. They  gathered in person or online for four two-hour sessions with CCS’s senior director Matthew Brogdon (Constitutionalism) and Civic Thought & Leadership Director Robert Burton (Civic Thought).

"Seminar discussions covering The Federalist Papers here in Orem laid an invaluable groundwork for our time in Oxford," explained Brogdon. "They established a rapport and intellectual community among our students that bore fruit many times over."

The two courses taught at Oxford brought together UVU students from a variety of disciplines and life experiences, and course directors Brogdon and Burton worked to help students succeed while allowing them to be stretched by the experience.

“At first it might seem discordant to bring American students to a British university to study the American constitution, but it lends to the investigation of an external perspective,” said Brogdon.

“To really understand ourselves, we have to step away from the environments we’re used to,” added Burton. “And stepping into a place as beautiful and thought-provoking as Oxford allows them the space to be self-critical and to evaluate what things are like back home.”

Stepping Up

Coming to Oxford to study can be intimidating for first-timers, and students certainly felt the need to step up.

“It’s still sinking in that I’m getting an education from some of the greatest minds ever,” said Alexis Coca, a Sociology major from Provo. “I never thought I was good enough to get here. My parents are from Mexico and never got to go to college. They are super excited for me.”

“I asked my mom if I should do this study-abroad program,” recalled Evan Prokopiw, an Elementary Education major from Spanish Fork. “She asked, ‘Where is it at?’ ‘Oxford,’ I said. ‘Then yes!’ she said. Being here is more than I can put into words. It’s very cool.”

Several CCS Wood Research Assistants presented on various topics at the academic conference, held July 28. Among them were Joseph Andersen-Stanley, Yanna Andersen-Stanley, Ethan Bassett, Kaylee Bishop, Cashlyn English, and Daniel Little, who all had similar feelings of awe at their storied surroundings.

“I was never more nervous in my life,” said English, Quill Project specialist at CCS. “It was the highest-intellect crowd I’ve ever seen. As a rodeo competitor I’ve roped in front of thousands of people on a 1,200-pound horse chasing a 500-pound calf, and that day at Oxford was scarier.”

“Our advisor, Dr. Nicholas Cole told us afterward that we did very well,” she continued. “I felt that the three years of preparation on this project was time well spent and that we were able to share the importance of state constitutions with that audience.”

Leveling Up

Roger Bannister gave up his running career shortly after achieving his sub-four-minute milestone in order to focus on medicine. He had a successful career as a neurologist, and later in life he served as Master of Pembroke College from 1985 to 1993, where his running memorabilia is on display to this day.

Also on display during these two weeks at Oxford was the research savvy of students who presented at the conference, as well as the excitement of the study-abroad participants for learning from and engaging with some of the top scholars in the world. All came away with new ways to look at how constitutional government evolved in the U.S. and how Americans engage in their civic responsibilities today.

“It was amazing to hear from the great UVU professors and staff and the people who have studied and taught here at Oxford,” said Sydney Dille, a Digital Marketing major from Provo. “It’s not something you find back in Utah.”

“Understanding the constitution better will help teach me fundamental principles that people are individuals and always a part of a society and culture,” observed Cutler Hollist, a Psychology major from Georgia. “You can’t separate a person from other people.”

“As universities were initially conceived, they were places where you could search for truth, and  Oxford is a reminder of the roots of higher education,” said Burton. “It’s been refreshing to step away from day-to-day administration and have great discussions with great colleagues in a beautiful place. Ultimately, education is about becoming our best selves, and education gives us the space to do that.”

“Not everyone has this opportunity and I’ve learned so much,” said Coca. “There is always room to come to common ground with different opinions. Everyone has something to offer, and being here feels like a fairy tale.”