Internationalizing the Professions

At best practices conference, panelists discuss strategies to incorporate international experiences into highly regulated degree programs like air traffic management and nursing.

March 22, 2013

NEW YORK CITY – Faculty and administrators discussed strategies for internationalizing professional programs at a best practices conference sponsored by the Institute of International Education. Speakers at a Thursday afternoon panel represented programs in air traffic control, oral health and nursing, all of which had received IIE Andrew Heiskell Awards for Innovation in International Education.

"Really, the cards are stacked against internationalization,” Mark Lazar, IIE’s vice president of global scholarship and learning programs, said in reflecting on the difficulties facing professional programs in particular. “They’re very detailed programs with very tight requirements. Credit transfer is an issue; accreditation is an issue. They’re programs with a need for practicum experiences and they are programs that are heavily government-regulated or monitored.”

“Despite all these obstacles, what really makes these programs great is they take the obstacles to internationalization and turn them on their head, and use them as an advantage,” Lazar said, by, for example, offering opportunities for students to gain practicum experiences while abroad.

Clyde Rinkinen, assistant professor of air traffic management at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, described a two-week study abroad program in which students travel to Belgium, Germany, England, France, Luxembourg and the Netherlands, studying air traffic control systems from a comparative perspective. (Among the stops are the EUROCONTROL Headquarters, in Brussels, and a center for the separation of aircraft at high altitudes, in Maastricht.) The students, who take course work before their departure, write a research paper upon their return.

“This course ended up facilitating internships. We’ve already had one student get an internship in Shanghai as a result of it. We’ve also made connections with some other industry-related groups that we expect are going to be fruitful for students at Embry-Riddle,” said Rinkinen.

“It broadens our students’ horizons,” added Martin R. Lauth, an associate professor of air traffic management at Embry-Riddle.  “Obviously not all of our students are going to get hired on with the FAA [Federal Aviation Administration], so we’re looking at other opportunities with major companies like Boeing and so forth where they do some air traffic services. And we’ve even found that there are some foreign countries that are willing to hire some of our students as air traffic controllers. That’s a little limited, but it’s still a possibility.”

Panelists from two oral hygiene programs described service learning programs in developing countries. Students at La Trobe University, in Australia, travel to Nepal to provide community education on oral health issues, while Shoreline Community College, in Washington State, offers a short-term study abroad program in partnership with the Smiles Forever Dental Hygiene Training Clinic in Bolivia. “To be able to see such poverty and such need for oral health, when [students] come back they’re so much more aware of the importance of access to care,” said Maryrose Bellert, the director of the Shoreline program.

Bellert said that students are hungry for the experience: she’s even had students say that they chose Shoreline over other competing oral health programs because of the opportunity to go to Bolivia. This despite the fact that the program has only been offered once, in 2011 – and the planned trip for this year had to be canceled because there’s no longer a study abroad coordinator at the college who can handle the logistics.

Paul Vita, the director and academic dean of Saint Louis University’s campus in Madrid, discussed some of the challenges facing its nursing with international preparation program, in which undergraduate nursing students spend their first two years in Madrid and their final two in St. Louis. They're able to obtain clinical placements for students at private health facilities in Spain, but, he said, “The toughest challenge is faculty staffing.” In order to avoid jeopardizing the program's approval by the state of Missouri’s nursing board, he said that all courses need to be delivered by someone with a nursing license in Missouri. While they’ve brought Missourians over to teach, that can get expensive. He said, however, that they’ve had good luck finding expats in Madrid who can teach their courses.

Rounding up the presentations, Sabeen Altaf, IIE’s senior program officer for science and technology programs, shared ideas of effective practices she’s learned from administering two exchange programs for engineers. One point she stressed was that it’s helpful for programs to have ABET accreditation in order to facilitate exchange. (Though American-based, ABET accredits programs around the world.)

Many of the programs highlighted on Thursday were short-term, and there was an emphasis during the discussion on the costs of these programs. “These are programs that can be undertaken during semester breaks or during the summer and provide that intensive experience so that time isn’t lost in getting the degree, which is very important, as many of these students are under economic pressure to finish on time," Lazar said.



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