SPAN had begun in 1948 as a consortium between the University of Minnesota and about a dozen colleges that cultivated international understanding through practical academic research. Each year four (sometimes three) countries were selected as destinations. It was— and is, because SPAN continues today—a self-financed program through voluntary donations by businesses in the Upper Midwest as well as by contributions from the participants themselves (known as SPANners). The program was oriented toward upper classmen (in that age of gender insensitive terminology) so applicants were usually students in their Junior (or third) year of undergraduate studies.
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