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Frontiers in STEM study abroad undergraduate research: a New Zealand case study.

The structure and short length of study abroad programs (SAPs) are often an impediment to achieving optimal undergraduate research experiences outside the home country. Frontiers Abroad (FA) has met the challenge with innovative programing that embeds the concepts of academic integration and longitudinal learning into its model. Together, these two concepts foster research collaboration between the student and faculty member at both the home and host institutions.

Conventional SAPs are either delivered by a host institution in another country or led by faculty from a home institution that visit the host nation with their students. For STEM SAPs, academic content is either based on a campus of a higher education institution in the host country or delivered from a more remote "field" location. If an undergraduate research experience is meant to be a primary learning goal and/or achievement of the program, this can be difficult to deliver in conventional SAPs, as there is little incentive for host universities to deliver meaningful research experiences for visiting short-term students, and field-based programs may lack appropriate resources (e.g., laboratories). FA has broken SAP convention and established a hybrid model for earth and environmental science programs in New Zealand whereby both field and campus-based learning are combined. Research forms the educational core of FA programs, running from the beginning of a five-week intensive field camp and extending longitudinally to the end of a campus semester. The first four weeks of field camp are designed to incrementally introduce and develop field skills and research techniques. During the final field week, students work with faculty mentors and collect field and/or laboratory data that, via a seamless transition, they carry with them into the campus part of the program.

Their research forms the basis for a semester-long course offered only to FA students, which minimizes the effect of large, domestic-course enrollments. Students are provided with the requisite skills as well as analytical and computational equipment (e.g., geochemical, microscopy, drone, GIS) needed to develop their research from the proposal stage through the experimental/ methods stage to ultimately interpret and present their results within the context of published literature. The results are written in a journal manuscript format and presented as a poster display at a formal research symposium hosted by the host university.

The success of this longitudinal learning model is underpinned by curricular and pedagogical integration between the students' home institutions and FA. FA has promoted trans-Pacific academic integration from the concept stage of program development and has continued with one to three U.S. faculty members joining the New Zealand programs as teachers and/or research mentors every year. Such integration has not only ensured confidence in FA as a leader in STEM education abroad but also, more unexpectedly, research collaborations have organically sprouted with many FA students continuing their New Zealand-based research at their home institution as undergraduate theses. Thus it can be argued that academic integration has extended the longitudinal learning model beyond the abroad program and has led to three peer-reviewed journal publications with students as first author, more than 50 student presentations at the Geological Society of America conference, two collaborative research grants, two students returning to New Zealand as Fulbright Fellows, and one PhD scholarship student continuing her FA research that she started as an undergraduate. [H


Maxwell Borella and Darren M. Gravley

Frontiers Abroad/University of Canterbury,
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Author:Borella, Maxwell; Gravley, Darren M.
Publication:Council on Undergraduate Research Quarterly
Article Type:Case study
Date:Mar 22, 2017
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