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Why Invest in International Research Experiences for Undergraduates?: Intercultural Maturity in Domestic and International REU Participants

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2014 ASEE International Forum


Indianapolis, Indiana

Publication Date

June 14, 2014

Start Date

June 14, 2014

End Date

June 14, 2014

Conference Session

Track 3 - Session 2

Tagged Topic

Student Development

Page Count


Page Numbers

20.42.1 - 20.42.14



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Paper Authors


Cheryl Matherly The University of Tulsa

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Dr. Cheryl Matherly is Vice Provost for Global Education at The University of Tulsa, where she has responsibility for the strategic leadership of the university’s plan for comprehensive internationalization. Dr. Matherly’ directs the NanoJapan program, funded by the National Science Foundation in order to expand international research opportunities for students in STEM fields. She is the recipient of two Fulbright grants for international education administrators (Germany and Japan.) She has an Ed.D. in Education Leadership and Culture Studies from the University of Houston.

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Sarah R. Phillips Rice University

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Sarah Phillips is the Education and International Initiatives Manager for the National Science Foundation Partnerships for International Research and Education (NSF-PIRE) ”U.S.- Japan Cooperative Research and Education on Terahertz Dynamics in Nanostructures” grant at Rice University. In collaboration with the PI and Education Director, she manages all aspects of the NanoJapan: International Research Experience for Undergraduates Program. Since 2006, this program has sent 130 young U.S. engineering and physics students to Japan for research, language, and cultural study. For the 2013 - 2014 academic year, she was concurrently a Professional Associate of the East-West Center and participant in the center's 2013 Asia Pacific Leadership Program.

Prior to her position at Rice, she worked at the Institute of International Education (IIE) on the U.S. Department of State funded Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship and completed a brief assignment at the IIE office in Doha, Qatar. She received an M.L.A. in International Studies from the University of St. Thomas, Houston and a B.A. in History, Political Science, and East Asian Studies from Minnesota State University, Moorhead. She will begin her doctoral studies in Fall 2014, pursuing a PhD in Educational Foundations from the University of Hawaii where her research will focus on international education for STEM students.

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Junichiro Kono Rice University

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Junichiro Kono received his B.S. and M.S. degrees in applied physics from the University of Tokyo in 1990 and 1992, respectively, and completed his Ph.D. in physics from the State University of New York at Buffalo in 1995. He was a postdoctoral research associate at the University of California, Santa Barbara, in 1995-1997 and the W. W. Hansen Experimental Physics Laboratory Fellow in the Department of Physics at Stanford University in 1997-2000. He joined the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering of Rice University in 2000 as an Assistant Professor and was promoted to Associate Professor in 2005 and to Professor in 2009. Kono is a Fellow of the American Physical Society and was a recipient of the CAREER Award of the National Science Foundation. His current research interests include optical studies of low-dimensional systems; non-equilibrium many-body and cooperative dynamics; strong-field physics in solids; and terahertz phenomena in semiconductors.

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Shane M Curtis University of Tulsa

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Why Invest in International Research Experiences for Undergraduates?: Intercultural Maturity in Domestic and International REU Participants This paper compares the learning outcomes for students participating in domestic andinternational undergraduate research experiences in STEM fields. The research is grounded inthe Developmental Model of Intercultural Maturity, which assumes that intercultural skills requirea complex understanding of cultural differences (cognitive dimension), capacity to accept and notfeel threatened by cultural differences (intrapersonal dimension), and a capacity to functioninterdependently with diverse groups (interpersonal dimension). This study examines howinternational and domestic undergraduate research experiences affect intercultural maturity ofSTEM students. This question is timely as science and engineering faculty recognize theimportance of preparing students to work cross-culturally. Specifically, the National ScienceFoundation notes that “Future generations of the U.S. science and engineering workforce mustcollaborate across national boundaries and cultural backgrounds, as well as across disciplines tosuccessfully apply the results of basic research to long-standing global challenges such asepidemics, natural disasters and the search for alternative energy sources.” The researchers compare the experiences of students participating in two ResearchExperiences for Undergraduates (REU) programs funded by the National Science Foundation; theNanoJapan International REU Program and the Rice Quantum Institute REU at Rice University.NanoJapan is a twelve-week REU program through which twelve freshman and sophomorephysics and engineering students complete nanotechnology research internships in labs at Japaneseuniversities. The RQI is a ten-week REU program in which sophomore and junior studentscomplete quantum-related research internships with faculty at Rice University. At the end of thesummer, both NanoJapan and RQI students present topical research posters on their summerprojects at the Rice Quantum Institute Summer Research Symposium. RQI and NanoJapan participants in summers 2012 and 2013 completed pre- and post-programassessments using the Georgia Institute of Technology International Internship Survey; a valid andreliable measure of how students assess their preparation for the general knowledge, abilities, andskills required for an internship, and of their workplace self-efficacy. Students, regardless ofprogram, self-reported that they improved in skills and abilities necessary for research in general,such as an ability to make presentations; design and conduct experiments; or analyze and interpretdata. The NanoJapan students reported statistically significant gains on categories of itemsassessing their preparedness related to the cognitive and interpersonal domains of interculturalmaturity: an ability to function on multi-disciplinary teams or in a cross-cultural environment; tothink critically and logically; to carry out projects independently; and to function in the hostcountry’s culture and society. Of more importance, the NanoJapan students rated their preparationin these categories lower than the RQI students at the start of the REU, but self-reported a rate ofchange such that they scored higher than RQI students at the end of their experience. In otherwords, students participating in the international REU perceived accelerated improvement on keymeasures of intercultural maturity as compared with their domestic counterparts. This research identifies dimensions in which the international REU, as distinct from a domesticexperience, may affect intercultural maturity, and suggests that the impact of the experience abroadmay accelerate these gains. This research can inform the discussion of the impact of investment ininternational research opportunities for undergraduate students.

Matherly, C., & Phillips, S. R., & Kono, J., & Curtis, S. M. (2014, June), Why Invest in International Research Experiences for Undergraduates?: Intercultural Maturity in Domestic and International REU Participants Paper presented at 2014 ASEE International Forum, Indianapolis, Indiana. 10.18260/1-2--17205

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