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New programs encourage STEM majors to participate in courses abroad

While some colleges are developing programs to encourage students in science, technology, engineering and mathematic fields to take classes abroad, Boston University is ahead of the mark and already offers students in STEM fields opportunities for study abroad.

At the Association of International Education Administrators’ annual conference Monday, entitled “Universalizing Global Learning in the 21st Century Academy,” researchers analyzed the study abroad programs of the University of Rhode Island and Northern Arizona University, two colleges that aim to extend study abroad options to all STEM majors.

“We have so many classes that engineers have to take in their discipline that there is really no room to do other things,” said Northern Arizona University Global Science and Engineering Program Director Eck Doerry. “That makes it quite challenging for them to take a semester off or integrate some kind of summer abroad into their studies.”

The problem, which Doerry said extends to all STEM curriculums, has limited the possibility of students who pursue careers in these fields from studying abroad. Northern Arizona University’s GSEP program intends to provide students with this opportunity.

“It is the first program of its scope nationwide,” he said. “What GSEP does is essentially tries to internationalize the entirety of their undergraduate education.”

For the first three years of college, students in the GSEP program take classes that integrate language and cultural studies with their engineering and science courses. After completing those classes, they spend a full year abroad, completing extra study and an internship. Students return from abroad for a fifth year to complete their degree, Doerry said.

“In return for investing another year on your education, we will make sure that you get two Bachelor Degrees at once,” he said. “That is a value proposition.”

GSEP enrollments have been twice as high as they had expected when they began the program, Doerry said.

Even with the success of this program, Director of Undergraduate Programs at BU’s College of Engineering Ruth Jean said ENG offers adequate study abroad options for students.

“We believe our current structure works well for our students.” she said in an email. “We currently have about 80 students abroad on a sophomore program, which is roughly 19 percent of our sophomore class.”

ENG junior Jennifer Larbi, who is majoring in biomedical engineering, studied abroad last spring in Europe and said the opportunity to study abroad is a valuable experience that allows students to learn in unique ways, inside and outside of the classroom.

“It would have been a great opportunity because you would have become fluent in the language with the longer time spent there,” she said. “Plus, [you would learn] things better because [with] the European system they teach you in a way that you learn for the sake of learning versus here they teach you toward a test.”

Nicole Black, an ENG senior also majoring in biomedical engineering said Northern Arizona University’s GSEP may not be for everyone.

“It is a good idea for certain people, particularly those that are planning on going to work abroad after they graduate,” Black, who previously studied abroad in Sydney, said. “I am not sure if it is something I would do personally because I want to stay in America [after graduation].”

College of Arts and Sciences sophomore Caique Mello, a chemistry major, said BU does not provide enough study abroad opportunities to STEM students.

“When you are chemistry major, you have a very limited window of opportunity to go study abroad,” he said. “I missed it, so I cannot really do anything about it now.”

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