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Preparing American Science And Technology Students To Work And Compete In A Global Economy

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NEW YORK, March 23, 2009—In a knowledge-driven global economy, how a nation educates the next generation of science and engineering students has serious implications for its progress and competitiveness. Many American employers looking to hire internationally-minded students in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields increasingly rely on U.S.-trained foreign nationals, whose cross-cultural experience is a recognized asset in the global marketplace. A new report, “Promoting Study Abroad in Science and Technology Fields,” argues that the United States needs to make sure that American students in S&T fields also get the chance to gain a global perspective before they enter the workforce, in order to fuel innovation and job creation. This report is the latest issue in IIE’s Study Abroad White Paper Series, Meeting America’s Global Education Challenge.

The White Paper was released today by IIE’s Chief Operating Officer Peggy Blumenthal speaking in Boston at the 2009 Engineering Deans Institute, convened by the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE). Ms. Blumenthal’s presentation, “Developing Global Competence in U.S. Engineering Students” was part of a panel on “Engineering Education in a Global Economy,” which also included a presentation on “Industry Perspectives on the Training of Global Engineers.” The Engineering Deans Institute is convened annually to foster dialogue between deans, industry leaders, and those in important roles in research and government.

“The Institute of International Education is working to expand opportunities for Americans from all backgrounds and in all fields, particularly the challenging STEM fields, to study abroad at some point in their academic career and to gain the international perspectives and global experience that will be vital to their success and to our country’s competitiveness in the 21st century,” said Ms. Blumenthal.

IIE administers the Global Engineering Education Exchange, a consortium of 35 U.S. engineering schools and over 50 higher education institutions outside the United States, which helps several hundred engineering students each year study outside their country on a tuition swap basis ( The report includes profiles of this and several other programs that IIE administers to enable American scientists and engineers to study and conduct research abroad, including the Winston Churchill Foundation Scholarships, the Whitaker International Fellows and Scholars Program, and the Central Europe Summer Research Institute, supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD). More information on these programs and others is available on IIE’s website:

The White Paper released today examines opportunities to expand student mobility in the disciplines of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, which are consistently underrepresented in study abroad. The featured chapter, co-authored by Ms. Blumenthal and Ulrich Grothus, the Deputy Secretary General of the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), examines case studies of U.S. and German programs to expand study abroad in the STEM fields. Noting that engineers need global competencies and multi-cultural skills as much as any other professionals, the authors find that German and American students in the STEM fields are less likely than their peers in other fields to acquire to acquire such skills through study abroad. The academic benefit of study abroad may be less immediately obvious in engineering than in fields like languages or history, and engineering professors seem more reluctant than others to grant credit for studies conducted with international colleagues. Students in these fields also tend to have tightly sequenced courses which make it difficult to accommodate a period off-campus, and such students typically are not able to include foreign language study in their study program.

However, the German and American case studies presented in the White Paper, such as IIE’s Global E3 and DAAD’s RISE (Research Internships in Science and Engineering) Program illustrate how these obstacles can be overcome through innovative programming. The authors conclude that opportunities for research experience, internships, and summer and semester-long programs taught in English may encourage more American engineering students to take the difficult first step to get experience abroad – and perhaps return overseas later in their academic career for longer and more intensive cultural immersion.

To put these programs into context, the report includes an analysis of the most recent student mobility trends in STEM fields from IIE’s Open Doors Report, which shows that only 16% of American students studying abroad are majoring in STEM fields, compared to 40% of all international students in the United States who are studying in STEM fields.

The report also looks closely at how to evaluate these kinds of programs. A chapter by Elizabeth Kirk presents findings from a workshop funded by the NSF on effective evaluation of international programs in STEM fields. An evaluation case study by IIE’s Robert Gutierrez examines the DAAD’s RISE (Research Internships in Science and Engineering) Program and its newer internship program, RISE Pro, that focuses on providing career-building experience by placing recent graduates, master’s and Ph.D. students at a German company for the summer.

Learn more about Promoting Study Abroad in Science and Technology Fields

About the Institute of International Education

The Institute of International Education (IIE), an independent, nonprofit organization founded in 1919, is the world’s most experienced global higher education and professional exchange organization. IIE has a network of 22 offices worldwide, more than 1,000 college and university members, and more than 5,000 volunteers. IIE designs and implements programs of study and training for students, educators, young professionals and trainees from all sectors with funding from government and private sources. These programs include the Fulbright and Humphrey Fellowships and the Gilman Scholarships administered for the U.S. Department of State.

Learn more about Study Abroad

Learn more about Open Doors


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Halstead Communications
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Dr. Allan E. Goodman
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Peggy Blumenthal 
Senior Counselor to the President