Submitted by Diversity Abroad 2015/2016 Task Force on STEM Disciplines: Ahaji Schreffler, Drexel University; Kate Moore, Academic Internship Council; Kristy Saerbry, Wake Forest University.
As study abroad professionals tackle the barriers of increasing participation of students in science, technology, engineering, math, and medicine, one STEM discipline presents particularly unique challenges: Technology.
A critical step in any STEM study abroad strategy is eliciting buy‐in from faculty so students are encouraged and supported. The advantages of study abroad can seem more straightforward to convey for disciplines such as engineering and medicine given the increasingly multicultural population, global collaboration on research, and international workforce. Faculty and students in these fields may be more inclined to see the value of study abroad as a platform for international research, collaboration, and learning from practitioners in existing and expanding networks around the globe.
When it comes to technology, on the other hand, it can be a harder sell. It means convincing faculty in fields like informatics and computing that study abroad has equal benefit for their students who are preparing for a virtual work environment within which travel is nearly irrelevant. Students will often comment that the most relevant advances in technology are within the States. Beyond the intrinsic value of experiencing other cultures and landscapes, what exactly are the advantages of study abroad for students in technology and how can study abroad professionals effectively cultivate faculty buy‐in beyond the virtual world? Which existing models can provide guidance? How can program administrators link existing models with faculty cultivation and student participation?
In order to gain support of faculty members, study abroad professionals should first start by identifying programs that offer technology and computing courses that complement their own university’s curriculum. As technology‐based majors increase on campuses across the US, more programs are offering courses that provide this population of students opportunities to study abroad. For example, programs such as DIS Copenhagen have added technology‐based tracks and courses to their offerings. AIT Budapest has an entire program dedicated to Computer Science and Engineering. There are also several universities abroad, such as Cardiff University in Wales or the University of Melbourne in Australia, that accept visiting students and offer an abundance of technology‐based courses.
Additionally, it is important that study abroad professionals build positive relationships with the technology and computing departments on their campus. This can be done through a variety of ways:
● Work with faculty on curriculum and abroad program approval
● Invite members of the faculty to study abroad committee/staff meetings
● Offer opportunities for faculty to participate in program site visits
● Encourage faculty members to lead their own programs abroad
● Provide incentives for faculty to incorporate international components into their courses each semester
By engaging faculty members with the study abroad process, they will gain insight into the many benefits of study abroad and the impact an international experience can have on their students.
In response to economic trends and student populations, the need to demonstrate relevance of experiences to employability has never been greater. This is particularly true with technology students, who are often balancing the opportunity cost of paid experiences at home with additional financial commitment to study abroad.
While general data has begun to illustrate the return on investment for study abroad, as amalgamated through UC Merced (http://studyabroad.ucmerced.edu/study-abroad-statistics/statistics-study-abroad), specific studies for technology students are yet to be realized.
However, there are some strong correlations between skills employers are emphasizing in recruitment or retention and the aptitudes that students gain through study abroad. Notably among these are dealing with ambiguity, showing initiative, and excelling on global or virtual teams. Students are advised to select programs that allow them to build these skills. In addition, students and faculty are urged to provide frameworks for students to articulate their study abroad experience as it relates to future academic endeavors and career development. Sample resources include – but are far from limited to – the following: Student guidance from University of Virginia School of Commerce (https://www.commerce.virginia.edu/career-services/marketing-your-study-abroad) and program administrator research and recommendations from Michigan State University (http://studyabroad.isp.msu.edu/research/Gardner_Gross_The%20Lorax%20Moment.pdf)
By tackling the unique challenges of technology in a systematic way, study abroad professionals will be able to create approaches for increasing participation of students in all STEM disciplines but most importantly work towards increased collaboration across campus and expanded conversation related to the relevance of experiences abroad.