Affordable Study Abroad

Description of Affordable STEM Study Abroad

The goal of Affordable STEM Study Abroad Semester Programs is to provide quality instruction that meets the academic needs of students in STEM fields while giving students the opportunity to live in another country for a semester. To us, affordable means that the price should be the same as studying at a student's home institution in the United States. We have already demonstrated that this is possible in our program at Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznan, Poland from 2017-2019. This program offered courses in technical subjects or other requirements for the majors in various fields of engineering, math, chemistry, physics, biological sciences and pre-professional degrees. Travel and events are included in the program cost. This program is planned to expand to accomodate many interests that are not currently met by most other study abroad program. The program in Poland has no language requirement. Polish is optional, but is offered. Courses in History, Political Science and Science and Technology Studies are also offered. Please look at the video for more information.

The STEMED Abroad Model

The STEMED Abroad model is different from most programs. The concept is to have an entire curriculum that specifically meets the needs of American students. The courses are taught in English by faculty in the host country. American faculty consultants help with curriculum choices that are appropriate for U.S. Bachelors' programs in various fields as well as to ensure that the courses are at the right level. Students frequently worry that grading will be more difficult or the course topics will be unfamiliar in another country. The course consultants help to ensure that homework problems and exams are at the level that U.S. students are accustomed to. Students will meet some of the consultants during orientation each year. We will use Zoom for others to facilitate communication.

Curriculum Design Requires a Minimum Number of Students

Since the program will offer at least 15 courses (12 STEM courses is the minimum needed for a complete program) a quorum of students is needed to pay for the coursework at a price that makes the program affordable. Compared to an exchange program this option is a Direct Enroll program that permits a student to have pre-approved U.S.-style courses, while having the flexibility to take some General Education Requirements, travel and experience life in another country. The 19-week-long program gives students time to study and to see the country or neighboring countries.

Treating Academic Partners with Respect

Students sometimes worry that professors in the host country are not being treated with respect in this process. STEMED Abroad's policy is that host-country professors can teach the course as they wish as long as the topics are appropriate and the level of the exams is commensurate with typical U.S. public institutions. For example, Differential Equations does have some variants in American curricula, but the bulk of the course is the same and must be the same since the skills needed for further study are common to many disciplines (and therefore to most curricula).

The Model has Advantages for all Participants

Course consultants are not commanding the host professors in any sense. Course consultants provide educational materials and ideas based on their experience in the U.S. Their role is to help faculty in the host country to know what to expect in the American educational system. Many fields have somewhat rigid expectations about topics that should be covered. The style of testing should also be discussed. None of these aspects prevent an instructor from using their own methods or homework problems, as long as the topics are on the list of those needed. Normally, these topics are fairly uniform over the world. There is only so much flexibility in what one can include or leave out of a calculus class. The consultants are available for discussions with both host-country instructors and American students about the level and delivery of the course material. Students need to avail themselves of this resource, but the program must make it clear that the lines of communication are open. Our experience suggests that foreign faculty are interested in seeing the American approach. Moreover, teaching native speakers in English is a great experience for them in the future careers. The interaction between foreign instructors and American students has advantages for both.

Relationship of STEMED Abroad to Internationalization Efforts in EU Countries

The European Union has prioritized internationalization, which means developing English language programs that students from other EU countries can take. This is a large undertaking and STEMED Abroad provides one route to building experience with English-language curricula. For American students, the courses should be at the same level as in the U.S. Since these are difficult courses in the home university, students often face challenges balancing their interest in experiencing the host country and the need to excel in their studies. There is no shortcut offered by taking the course overseas. However, class sizes are much smaller and professors tend to be very motivated by their interest in meeting and interacting with American students and faculty. Thus, there is a great opportunity for motivated students.

Critiques of the program: striving to make the program a success for every student

Certain basic issues required a solution. Originally the program was designed with a 15-week semester. However, when travel is included the amount of time to study is significantly curtailed. Once it became clear that a 19-week semester is needed to accommodate both studying and exploring, the remaining problems have mainly been due to lapses in communication. Students sometimes did not know that they had a course consultant or that counseling was available in the dormitory or that the academic director had a textbook library that he maintained for the program. Although these points were written on the website, one of the major problems was that the American university study abroad office wanted to exclude the STEMED website and discouraged students from using it. However, the study abroad office did not maintain everything needed for the program on the study abroad website. As a result, some students were discouraged from communicating with program personnel or reaching out to find solutions to their problems.