Emory Report
February 5, 2007
Volume 59, Number 18

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February 5, 2007
Science Experience Abroad honored as best practice by Institute of International Education

BY beverly clark

Emory's Science Experience Abroad program has been recognized as a "Best Practice" in international education by the Institute of International Educators, and will receive the 2007 Andrew Heiskell Award for Innovations in International Education.

"This award raises the visibility of Emory's internationalization efforts," said Preetha Ram, assistant dean for science education and director of SEA. "Not only has SEA made a definite impact on study abroad at Emory and significantly changed the student culture in the sciences, with SEA we have also developed a nationally relevant model for internationalizing the undergraduate science curriculum."

Emory's SEA program, founded less than three years ago, has significantly increased opportunities and participation in study abroad for science majors who have traditionally lagged in participation behind non-science majors. SEA allows science students to stay on track toward their major and pursue their professional career goals while taking advantage of opportunities for international research and learning.

"The rapidly changing climate of science now calls for a more globally aware, multi-culturally perceptive scientist who has experienced life outside the United States, which makes SEA a vital endeavor for our students," said Philip Wainwright, director of Emory's Center for International Programs Abroad.

Nationally, science majors report several reasons for their low participation in study abroad, such as sequential courses, pre-med requirements, higher course demands, minimal encouragement and advice from science faculty, and poor coordination between home courses and foreign science courses. SEA has worked to reduce and minimize such obstacles for science students at Emory.

Summer abroad opportunities at Emory include a popular chemistry studies program in Siena, Italy, an environment and ecology program in Queensland, Australia, and starting this year, a global health interdisciplinary studies course in South Africa.

Nicholas Justice, a senior in chemistry, took part in the Siena, Italy, program last summer, and describes his experience as "the best thing to happen to me at Emory."

"As a science major you're so slammed trying to get all of your coursework in, so it was a real treat to get to go abroad," said Justice, who spent part of his time in a vineyard laboratory analyzing wine during fermentation and later at the University of Siena as a full- time researcher -- an experience that has made him strongly consider a career in science. "It was an amazing experience to work as an independent researcher and be treated as peer, especially in an international setting where I wasn't fluent in the language. It definitely teaches you how to get along with different people and think more independently."

Undergraduates with previous research experience also can apply for international research fellowships to do work abroad -- opportunities that are often born from existing collaborations between Emory scientists and their international colleagues. More traditional semester-abroad programs for science majors also are offered at several schools in Great Britain, France, Germany, Australia, Turkey and other countries.

The number of science students participating in study abroad has increased from 9 percent to 20 percent in three years and evaluations collected from students rate SEA programs very highly. Many of these science students choose to go abroad a second time.  

"We believe there is a unquantifiable but genuine buzz among faculty and students about the new international face of science at Emory," said Ram. "Students come back from their science study abroad experiences and demonstrate renewed interest in the field, improved communication skills and an increased inclination toward advanced studies."   

The Heiskell Awards were established in 2001 to promote and honor the most outstanding initiatives in international higher education. An independent nonprofit founded in 1919, the Institute of International Educators is among the world's largest and most experienced international education and training organizations.