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Evaluation Of Intercultural Learning In An Education Abroad Program For Stem Undergraduates

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2010 Annual Conference & Exposition


Louisville, Kentucky

Publication Date

June 20, 2010

Start Date

June 20, 2010

End Date

June 23, 2010



Conference Session

Global Engineering Education: Intercultural Awareness and International Experience

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Page Numbers

15.539.1 - 15.539.16



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Paper Authors


Chrysanthe Demetry Worcester Polytechnic Institute

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Chrysanthe Demetry is Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Director of the Center for Educational Development & Assessment at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI), where she has been on the faculty since 1993. A materials scientist by training, she co-directs WPI's Bangkok Project Center and has advised approximately 75 off-campus student research projects in the Americas, Europe, Africa, Asia, and Australia. Her research interests include measurement of student learning outcomes from international education, active and cooperative learning methods, use of educational technology, and K-12 engineering outreach for girls. Chrys received the ASM Bradley Stoughton Award for Young Teachers in 2000 and the WPI Trustees' Award for Outstanding Teaching in 2002.

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Richard Vaz Worcester Polytechnic Institute

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Richard Vaz received the PhD in electrical engineering from Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) and joined the Electrical and Computer Engineering faculty in 1987. He is currently Dean of Interdisciplinary and Global Studies, with oversight of WP⁉s worldwide network of 26 Project Centers and an academic unit focusing on local and regional sustainability. His teaching and research interests include service and experiential learning, engineering design and appropriate technology, and internationalizing engineering education. He has developed and advised hundreds of student research projects in the Americas, Africa, Australia, and Asia. Since 2004 he has also served as a Senior Science Fellow of the Association of American Colleges and Universities.

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Evaluation of Intercultural Learning in an Education Abroad Program for STEM Undergraduates


This mixed methods study characterizes the intercultural learning that occurred among participants in a project-based education abroad program in Thailand. In addition to their interdisciplinary project work, these STEM students (N=17) engaged in cultural learning activities during a semester-long preparation period and two-month sojourn. In addition, about half of the students completed their projects in mixed teams of Thai and US students. Pre- and post-administration of the Intercultural Development Inventory (IDI) was used as a quantitative indicator of intercultural development, while semi-structured interviews provided some depth and context to the quantitative data. The change in students’ developmental IDI scores was marginally statistically significant, with those in the mixed teams showing greater positive change on average. Most students remained in ethnocentric stages of development, however. Still, all students regardless of their IDI results were able to describe meaningful cultural differences. Overall, this study reinforces both the challenges and opportunities of significant intercultural learning in engineering education abroad programs.


Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) undergraduates and faculty are responding to broader national trends of increasing participation in education abroad programs.1-4 These programs have particular potential to develop students’ intercultural communication skills and understanding of difference, which have been identified as increasingly important attributes of STEM graduates for professional practice and citizenship in the 21st century.5-10 However, intercultural learning does not occur de facto when students travel abroad. The primary intended learning outcomes may be in other domains, and STEM faculty typically have little or no experience fostering intercultural development. This situation is problematic in that education abroad experts have long known that without guided processing of cross-cultural encounters and cultural differences, people can return from these experiences with stereotypes reinforced and more ethnocentric worldviews, or develop technical solutions that have unintended negative consequences on local culture.10-11

This paper describes an evaluation of intercultural learning within an experiential education abroad program at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI). As part of WPI’s project-based undergraduate curriculum, all students complete an interdisciplinary research project involving both social and technical dimensions. This Interactive Qualifying Project (IQP), conducted in small teams of students under faculty guidance, is intended to help students learn how the social and cultural contexts of a problem impact its solution. Other learning outcomes are related to information literacy, teamwork and professionalism, and written and oral communication.12 Most IQPs involve addressing open-ended problems posed by community-based agencies and organizations. Through WPI’s Global Perspective Program, over half of WPI students complete their IQP at one of 15 Project Centers in Africa, the Americas, Asia, Australia, and Europe.13-18

Demetry, C., & Vaz, R. (2010, June), Evaluation Of Intercultural Learning In An Education Abroad Program For Stem Undergraduates Paper presented at 2010 Annual Conference & Exposition, Louisville, Kentucky. 10.18260/1-2--16073

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