Emory College's Science Experience Abroad: Study Abroad Programs for Science Students
2007 Heiskell Award Winner: Study Abroad
Nomination submitted by: Preetha Ram, Assistant Dean for Science
Investigating the chemical composition of paint in Renaissance paintings has made some Emory students more committed to the study of chemistry. Dean Preetha Ram, a member of the chemistry faculty, traveled to Siena with a group in 2004. Having seen the enthusiasm among students in Italy, it surprised her to find that many science faculty did not perceive study abroad experience as valuable. To provide study abroad options for students while helping faculty open new possibilities for research and funding, Ram and colleague Philip Wainwright have created the Emory College Science Experience Abroad (SEA) program, which has met success among both students and faculty.
In recent years, statistics have indicated both a decline in the contribution of American scientists to science worldwide, and an increase in the contributions of international scientists to the scientific enterprise. Emory Provost Earl Lewis sees this as a call for leadership. "As the landscape of science changes to include more international scientists and more problems of global significance, the American scientific workforce must respond accordingly,” says Lewis. “It is the responsibility of universities such as Emory to prepare a new generation of globally aware and multiculturally perceptive scientists who have experienced life outside the U.S. We must rethink the education of young scientists to include this international experience.”
The Emory Science Experience Abroad (SEA) program offers a variety of solutions. From new science-focused study abroad programs to scholarships and financial incentives, all are designed with an in-depth understanding of the special needs of undergraduate science students. Improved science-specific advising and mentoring, better marketing and student advocacy, and greater faculty involvement in student recruitment and advising are all contributing factors.
Barriers to Study Abroad for Science Students
Sequential courses, pre-med requirements, higher course demands in science majors, minimal encouragement and advice from science faculty, and poor mapping of home courses to foreign science courses are all noted barriers to study abroad for science students. These difficulties, real or perceived, lead to a student culture where study abroad is not valued very highly.
Emory’s SEA program offers innovative and flexible options to overcome these obstacles.
Summer Science Study-Abroad Programs
To make study abroad an integral part of science curricula, SEA organizers developed summer study abroad programs for science courses that satisfy degree requirements in disciplines such as biology and chemistry. Courses are designed to address cultural issues and country-specific topics along with science to contextualize the experience. The two current SEA programs, Chemistry Studies in Siena and Ecology and Environment in Australia, are both very successful.
Culture Change in the Sciences
Developing the Siena program was highly instructive for Emory staff, and led to a change in the faculty culture in the sciences. The success of the Siena program first encouraged the growth of an interdisciplinary summer-study program between biology and environmental sciences in Australia, and in 2007, SEA will offer a Global Health Interdisciplinary Sciences track in Cape Town, South Africa. Building on Emory’s strategic initiatives in global health and an existing program, the large number of pre-health students at Emory will now have the opportunity to explore complex issues of public health in South Africa. Notably, the program also offers the unique opportunity for students to take a service learning course that will engage them with both K-12 students and adult learners.
Science Faculty Support
Faculty buy-in has been critical to Emory’s success. Early involvement of science faculty in program development and student advising has led to a growing number of faculty who serve as advisors to SEA and assist in selecting students and developing new programs. Dean Ram identifies faculty mentors and advisors for students with the help of Emory’s Faculty Science Council, and faculty are given incentives such as travel grants for increased involvement in science study abroad.
International Fellowships for Students with Prior Research Experience
In another effective strategy for engaging faculty, research interests and SEA goals converge in the new IRES program (International Research Experience for Science). Students with prior research experience are awarded fellowships to perform international research during the summer. Emory faculty advisors choose an international research mentor for each student, a critically important step for program success. The project is initiated at Emory over the spring semester and ongoing communication between the Emory advisor and the international host ensures continuity throughout the summer. Faculty benefit directly as existing research collaborations are strengthened and new research projects are explored.
Taking Advantage of Faculty Connections: Semesters of Science
Faculty connections also led to science-enhanced semester programs. The Neuroscience and Behavioral Biology program at St. Andrews was the first and most successful science semester exchange program that grew from faculty connections between the two institutions. Building on another faculty connection, the Chemistry Department has now crafted a four-year BS/MS International degree that will allow students to take courses at Imperial College for graduate credit.
The number of science students participating in study abroad has increased from 9 percent to 20 percent in three years. After two years of existence, SEA offers four science study-abroad programs, and staff report an unquantifiable, but genuine, “buzz” among faculty and students about the new international face of science at Emory.
"As the landscape of science changes to include more international scientists and more problems of global significance, the American scientific workforce must respond accordingly. It is the responsibility of universities such as Emory to prepare a new generation of globally aware and multiculturally perceptive scientists who have experienced life outside the U.S. We must rethink the education of young scientists to include this international experience.”
—Emory Provost Earl Lewis