NU targets McCormick students for study abroad

Sarah Warning

Brian Schettler began thinking about studying abroad during his junior year. But he didn’t think it would work with the strict sequence of courses required of engineering students.

“I didn’t ever think it really was a possibility to take study abroad and fill engineering reqs,” said Schettler, who graduated Winter Quarter.

And he’s not the only one who thinks study abroad programs are off-limits to science and engineering students.

“Some (freshmen) don’t even think it’s possible,” he said. “They’re under the impression they have to stay at NU.”

Only about 1.7 percent of students in the McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science study abroad, as opposed to 5.3 percent of those in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, according to the 2002-03 data from the study abroad office.

But it’s important to expand study abroad opportunities for engineering students, said Stephen Carr, McCormick associate dean.

“Engineering knows no international boundaries,” Carr said. “Salaries are in part established by what’s available internationally.”

A planned public health program, scheduled to start in Summer 2004 in South Africa, would attract premedical students, said Devora Grynspan, director of the Office of International Programs. An engineering program in China is also in the works.

Administrators have made developing programs for pre-medicine, science and engineering students a priority, Grynspan said.

“Study abroad is an essential part of an education,” she said. “All students need international experience. Study abroad should be done as a matter of course, not as a luxury. It’s not only for language students.”

Determined McCormick students can make time in their schedules for international experiences, but few manage to juggle everything, Carr said.

“Sometimes science and engineering (students) have a hard time transferring credit and proving equivalency,” said Jennifer Hirsch, assistant director of the Study Abroad Office. “The most we can do is work with departments so they know these programs.”

Schettler eventually studied abroad through an NU exchange program at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology. NU helps to develop curricula for exchange programs, so credits transfer more easily.

Because so few engineering students study abroad, Schettler’s application was approved before it was completed. He was the third McCormick student to participate in the program.

One popular choice among science and premed students has been the public health program, based in France, Mexico and China. Students involved with the NU-created program attend seminars on social issues, health problems and medical practices in their program’s location.

But administrators still worry that students might not take advantage of the opportunities.

“We find very strong interest among the freshmen,” Carr said. “Then they go silent. They forget about their initial enthusiasm.”

Schettler said his experience in Switzerland helped him develop new relationships and better understand America’s place in the world. At the international institution, Schettler studied with people from Norway, Japan, Poland and Spain.

“It was just fun sharing foreign policy views, sitting down in a dorm and getting an idea of what everyone else’s opinions are,” he said.

Schettler said he appreciated the chance to learn that “America is not the center of the universe.” But he doesn’t think the international experience is necessary for all science students.

“It’s definitely not crucial in terms of doing engineering,” he said. “If you just want to be a scientist or just want to be an engineer, you can do it at NU. If you want to develop as a person and have a fascinating experience, it’s a no-brainer.”