U pushes study abroad in sciences

A national conference held Thursday at the University examined the school’s approach.

Amy Horst

Faculty and staff from 120 universities around the world gathered Thursday at the University to discuss student enrollment in study abroad.

The group of about 400 advisers, professors, administrators and others listened and sometimes took notes as University faculty and staff spoke.

Employees from the University discussed how the institution’s four campuses have encouraged more students to study abroad in the last three years, particularly in the fields of science and engineering.

“The goal is to communicate to students that study abroad fits,” said Santiago Fernandez-Gimenez, curriculum integration communications manager for the Learning Abroad Center. “Rather than say why study abroad is important for everyone, we want to say why study abroad is important for you as a psychology major a chemical engineering major or a graphic design major.”

In 1999, University officials said 78 percent of students who studied abroad were humanities and social sciences majors. In response, the University obtained a grant from the Archibald Bush Foundation in St. Paul for a one-year pilot program to encourage more Institute of Technology students to study abroad.

Speakers at the conference said the pilot program was a success, and it led to two larger grants totaling about $1 million from the Archibald Bush Foundation and a federal grant from the Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education.

With those grants, the Learning Abroad Center continued the work it began in the pilot program, expanding it to other colleges on all four campuses. The University is also using the grant to increase international perspectives in University

classes.

Between 1997 and 2003, the center saw a 1,150 percent increase in the number of IT students studying abroad, vice provost for undergraduate education Craig Swan said.

University faculty and staff at the conference said they have tried to help students by informing them of available study abroad options.

“If a student’s looking for something specific, it can be a little difficult to sift through all those choices,” said Amy Greeley, the study abroad liaison for IT and two other colleges.

To help students make those choices, the Learning Abroad Center began making fliers listing study abroad programs by major.

“We can help any student, but we want to make sure there’s a starting point for each of them,” said Lynn Anderson, director of curriculum integration.

Keynote speaker, former Vice President and University alumnus Walter Mondale said difficult financial times and policies hostile to international students have threatened study abroad programs.

“Study abroad works, it spreads, it’s hopeful, and we ought to be doing a lot more of it,” Mondale said.