The International Research Program: Integrating Study Abroad and International Research
2004 Heiskell Award Winner: Study Abroad
Nomination submitted by: Christiane Zehl Romero, Professor of German, Director, Tufts Program in International Relations
Tufts University has created a truly innovative and comprehensive program to provide the international education and undergraduate research experience vital for global citizenship in the 21st century. Designed to bridge the gap between undergraduate research and study abroad, the International Research Program consists of two research courses, taught prior to departure and upon return, an online environment of resources and communication tools to provide mentorship and additional instruction while students are abroad, and resources and faculty support to encourage the application of their learning in a capstone experience. The comprehensive design prepares students to become more immersed in their study abroad experience, and connects learning abroad to applied work at home.
Christiane Zehl Romero, Director of Tufts University Program in International Relations says that “since both study abroad and the conception of a substantive research project typically occur in the junior year when students have gained the necessary preparation for both, study abroad is often positioned against research. As a result, undergraduates must frequently choose between serious research and study abroad, sacrificing the opportunity to learn from the potential synergy between the two.”
The Tufts model answers these concerns. By preparing students to conduct international research, study abroad becomes an integral part of the academic curriculum. Students are more engaged in learning while abroad, and improve critical thinking and problem solving skills along with language proficiency and cultural literacy. Having begun the research process before departure, students have the benefit of continuous mentorship by faculty as well as the support of the International Research Network (IRN) online community while continuing research abroad. They return prepared to apply their experience in a capstone project such as a senior thesis, which challenges them to synthesize what they have learned at home and abroad.
Currently in their senior year, the first group of 25 students to participate in the International Research Program has returned from semester and year-long experiences abroad. Students are working on various research projects, including senior theses, Fulbright grants, and independent study projects, and report significant advantages to having participated in the program. Hailey Brewer, who is writing a senior thesis on her year in Santiago, Chile, believes the Program was “especially useful to me in preparing both mentally and academically for the challenges of conducting international research...The International Research Program has given me a crucial head start on my thesis, enabling me to hopefully produce a more in-depth and representative analysis than would have otherwise been possible.”
According to Jamshed Bharucha, Provost and Senior Vice President of Tufts University, “the International Research Program at Tufts University exemplifies the goals of the Heiskell Awards and can serve as a model for other institutions of higher education striving to promote study abroad and the internationalization of their campuses.” The comprehensive curricular design and program management could be effectively applied to a science or business context as well.