Founding Philosophy of STEMED Abroad

Founding Philosophy and Background of STEMED Abroad

The Founder, Dr. Stefan Franzen has designed and directed research and educational programs for American students in Norway, Sweden, Italy, France, Germany, Poland and China starting in 2004. After speaking with dozens of students concerning their motivations for study abroad and the barriers they experience, Dr. Franzen designed a semester program to meet the needs of as many students as possible. This mission is somewhat personal since he himself has studied overseas for many years and has benefited enormously from that opportunity. It is somewhat rare that a research-active scientist takes an interest in developing international programs. It could be considered a distraction from the research mission, despite the obvious benefits for students. For personal reasons, Dr. Franzen began to collaborate internationally and take students overseas regularly after 2006. A total of 200 American students have studied overseas under his direction or in programs he designed.

Why Do So Few American Students Study Abroad?

During the summer STEM study abroad in China, Dr. Franzen observed every year that a few students withdrew from the program at the last possible moment owing to lack of funds. One of the largest obstacles to the summer program was the timing of financial aid checks. Students needed to purchase plane tickets and pay the program fee before receiving their financial aid checks. Two summers in a row Dr. Franzen loaned students money to purchase their plane tickets. The study abroad office opposed these efforts to help students, but provided no service of their own to bridge the gap that prevented many students from studying overseas even for a summer. The realization that the students who could afford the program (one of the cheapest in the study abroad offering) meant that a new model would be needed to reach a broad cross section of students.

Curriculum Design Requires a Minimum Number of Students

Realizing that the financial advantage for both students and their host universities could be established if a certain number of STEM courses were offered at the same time and students could study for an entire semester changes the financial calculation. Instead of $3,500 for a seven-week summer program the price of the semester program (in 2017-2019) was $8,000 base cost (without plane fare). Since students could take a full load and stay on track for their majors the semester was not lost. With this innovation STEM study abroad becomes quite affordable in many European countries. However, a minimum number of students must be recruited in order to obtain the needed financial support for the number of classes offered and other services. In other words, the $8,000 price depends on recruiting more than 45 students.

Student Interest Questionnaire

Six hundred students taking freshman chemistry were asked about their preferences and obstacles to study abroad. More 63% said that they wanted to study STEM courses abroad. However, 35% reported that they did not believe it was possible due to financial constraints. While 90% said that they would study in the United Kingdom the number falls to below 70% for any non-English-speaking country. Poland is our first destination despite the fact that many American students know little about the country. In a certain regard, this should make a more attractive destination to those students who want to learn about the world. Certainly, Poland has been at the center European history and current events because of its geographic location and the determination of its people. Speaking frankly, Polish university are more eager to form ties with American Universities than many universities further to the west. This part of the logic of recent history. Poland was behind the Iron Curtain for nearly 50 years and had almost no contact with western European countries or the U.S. during this time. The high level of education and quality of scientific research makes Poland are not as widely known as many other western European countries. Since 2005 when Poland joined the EU, the country has been transformed. Yet, the need to stronger cultural, language and academic ties is still evident. There is a great mutual benefit to American students who study abroad in Poland.

Poznan, Poland Became the Pilot Site

Dr. Franzen started collaborating with Polish research groups and attending scientific meetings in 2000. With seventeen years experience in Poznan, he had watched as the facilities and entire city had been either modernized (where appropriate) or renovated to its historical appearance (as appropriate in the Old Town and other buildings throughout the city). While it would have been impossible to run a program in Poznan in 2000, by 2017 there were excellent facilities, including laboratories that meet EU standards, a new technical campus at Morasko and new dormitories that meet or even exceed standards of most public university dormitories.

Programs Designed for Mutual Benefit

Universities in Poland, and many other EU countries, are establishing programs that will reach accross the European Union. This means that the curriculum must be in English, which has been accepted as the common language of the EU. American students can benefit from an international experience and personal attention in smaller classes while EU partner universities benefit by working U.S. universities to implement English-language curriculum wholesale. This is accelerating a trend that is already underway, not changing the direction of development.

Confronting the Global Pandemic

The pandemic has changed the landscape for U.S. study abroad. While EU countries continue their internationalization, albeit with appropriate measures to ensure health and safety for visitors and locals alike, the U.S. is further away and the need for safety and security issues to be fully resolved is of paramount importance. The persistent effects of a pandemic that is becoming an endemic situation will require closer cooperation than before to ensure health and safety of students. Developing close university partnerships and the trust that comes with faculty exchange and close ties will facilitate study abroad once more. Many of the previous options are going to take longer to return to the pre-pandemic status.

Evolution of STEMED Abroad

STEMED Abroad was founded as a way to coordinate efforts of universities in the U.S. to obtain the advantages of faculty involvement that will help to ensure quality. Today, close university cooperation provides an avenue to reestablishing study abroad experiences for students.