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Study abroad gives STEM majors a chance to grow

The benefits of studying abroad are expansive and despite heavy schedules, STEM majors need not be deterred

With a university as big as ASU comes big opportunities for science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, majors.

Studying abroad is no exception. 

The study abroad program includes over 250 programs in more than 65 countries, according to Carrie Herrera Niesen, communications and marketing specialist for the ASU's Study Abroad Office. The length of the program can also vary from anything between one week to one year.

Not only is studying abroad an opportunity to travel, it’s also an opportunity to advance one's career in STEM, among other disciplines, Niesen said.

Kae Sawyer, associate director of student engagement for the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, said students who have a field within STEM tend to have very rigorous majors. However, she believes studying abroad can add to their preparation.

“Often, because of the rigors of their program, the coursework tends to be such a high priority that they don't realize that those opportunities can be part of their experience," Sawyer said. 

Sawyer is an advocate for students to reach out and find ways to make studying abroad a reality. She said studying abroad “arms you with more info to be a more productive problem solver and team builder.” 

“If you're applying for graduate school, for medical school, or professional school, this is the way to distinguish yourself from other graduates,” Niesen said.

Studying abroad also means a chance to enhance communication skills by better grasping language, Niesen said. Along with communication, there is the chance to create relationships with people in your field to help grow one's network.

“All study abroad courses return ASU credits, and it really helps students to gain direction, independence and find new ways of thinking and increase creativity,” Niesen said. 

Students have the opportunity to gain hands-on experience through internships or research done abroad, she said, and what you study abroad doesn’t necessarily have to be tied up to you major.

Niesen said that studying abroad is more affordable than students believe, since the Study Abroad Office focuses on getting students financial help.

“We are excited to help everyone and anyone study abroad,” Niesen said.

Jesus Mena a junior studying environmental and resource management, did a study abroad program last semester to China. The program was part internship with a digital marketing company and part class.

“Ever since I started college I wanted to study abroad, and I knew it was going to be expensive so I just put it on the back burner,” Mena said. 

Mena said receiving a scholarship was the deciding factor for whether he would go. While many assume applying for study abroad takes a long time, he said the process between talking to the Study Abroad Office and applying for the scholarship only took him about three months.

As far as finances go, traveling outside the country can be expensive, but the country someone chooses can make all the difference. 

Mena said that because he went to China instead of any of the countries in Europe, he didn’t spend very much money while there. 

“I could afford to go out and have fun,” Mena said.

When considering how it changes a student's perspective on life, experiencing other cultures provides an insight that wouldn’t be found otherwise. 

“It gives you a broader perspective of how your field is practiced in another country,” Mena said. “It definitely has the potential to be very impactful in your career and your life.”

Reach the reporter at and on Twitter @stefmarz.

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