Expanding the Global Classroom

Wanted: Mobile ScientistsToday, junior scientists from foreign countries training in the U.S. are less inclined to make their careers here, given the growing support and resources for scientific research closer to home. In response, the head of the National Science Foundation recently advised that budding North American and European scientists see to it that they gain experience abroad to learn how science is conducted in these emerging epicenters of discovery.

Yet, given the intense credit load and lockstep course sequence of our science majors, carving out time to study abroad can feel insurmountable. With the help of CALS faculty, the International Programs Office has developed more than a dozen new study and internship opportunities with overseas partners that accommodate the needs of science students by taking place over summer or winter breaks.

Last summer, for example, nearly three dozen students from across Wisconsin completed a course on social entrepreneurship at Oxford University developed and taught by CALS’ Brad Barham, a professor of agricultural and applied economics, and professor John Hoffmire of the Wisconsin School of Business. Students learned from their professors and from practitioners in the field about social entrepreneurship, which harnesses market-oriented activities to address social, economic and environmental problems. They also collaborated in small groups on a number of hands-on assignments, most notably a week-long internship project in which they offered their assistance to—and learned from—a diverse range of entrepreneurial nongovernment organizations (NGOs).

Barham says the combination of engaged, active learning in the classroom with hands-on experience working with NGOs was transformative for the students.

“The key is taking students out of their comfort zones and concentrating their attention on a core theme so they can see how the education they are getting can be applied,” says Barham. “Without a doubt, some of our most innovative entrepreneurship comes from those experiences.”

Participant Caroline Collins, a double major in agricultural business and environmental studies, completed a long-distance internship with an entrepreneur in India who is working on micro-grid technology. He hopes that his innovation will bring reliable, safe power to India’s most impoverished rural populations. Collins’ group contributed both a market analysis and a business plan for his work.

“I was interviewing for summer internships this past fall and almost every employer asked me about my time at Oxford,” says Collins. “They all wanted to know what projects I worked on, what I learned and how I grew from the experience.”

The course, she says, “opened my eyes to how new methods and ideas regarding sustainable development can benefit both industry and the

Her experience abroad also made her feel more independent and confident in her ability to “conquer unfamiliar challenges and situations,” she notes. “I also gained better group work skills by completing projects with people from different cultures. All of these skills help me with everyday scenarios on campus and better prepare me for life after graduation.”

Emi Kihslinger BS’13 contributed to this story.

Maybe it’s not so surprising that in the world of higher education, CALS has been a leading force in the internationalization of science education. Our scholars have long been global citizens, collaborating with international research partners and taking care to see that their discoveries benefit us all.

In 1951, CALS faculty hosted agricultural delegates from nearly 40 developing nations for a conference on land tenure problems. In the following years CALS launched an annual International Farm Youth Educational Exchange Conference and by 1963 had matriculated more than 230 foreign students.

Cold War politics also sent an impressive number of CALS faculty abroad. Bolstered by external and federal funds made available after World War II, faculty from across campus, including those in agriculture, education and engineering, returned from working in countries like India, Brazil and Nigeria eager to share their insights with their students.

Recognizing that our deeply local roots had become the foundation of our institution’s undeniably global reach, in 1961 the University Board of Regents published a policy resolution that in effect “internationalized” their land grant vision:

“With the passing years, the welfare of the people of Wisconsin has become increasingly tied to national and international developments. It is logical, therefore, that the scope of the Wisconsin Idea should be broadened […]. We recognize that the university’s first responsibility is to Wisconsin and its residents. But the university must look outward if this obligation is to be fulfilled.”

Today CALS requires every one of its students to earn three credits of international studies coursework. Scores of CALS graduates have served in the Peace Corps. And nearly every one of the college’s instructors engages in international work of some kind.

In this light, of course our faculty and instructors accepted my request for an interview—and embraced the opportunity to further expose their most junior students to the real-world, collaborative challenges they grapple with every day. We’re pleased to present miniprofiles of some of these efforts as part of this story (see photos and sidebars).

The World at Their KeyboardsIn recent years, UW–Madison has bolstered its commitment to offering high quality online education that harnesses the most cutting-edge technology and provides students with a more efficient and accessible
learning experience. Faculty in the sciences have welcomed the opportunity to explore what online learning can bring to their classrooms.

Much like a “create your own adventure” story, online case studies ask students to tackle real-world problems as actors in a simulated scenario. With media-rich international content, instructors are now more able than ever to bring the world to their students’ fingertips—literally. Thanks to a partnership between CALS International Programs and UW–Madison’s Engage Program, students in dairy science, botany, pharmacy and plant pathology classes have experienced some of the most innovative products available.

Dairy science professor Michel Wattiaux, for example, collaborated with his partners in Mexico to produce an online case that asks students to evaluate the likelihood that smallholder farmers in Central Mexico would adopt a new milking technology.

And plant pathology professor Jeri Barak designed a program that asks students in her Global Food Security class to play the role of an intern to Ethiopia’s commerce minister. Tasked with evaluating the possible benefits and consequences of leasing out land to a foreign firm, each student must ultimately recommend which (if any) land proposal to accept.

At their best, such scenarios prompt students to tackle complex issues within real-world contexts, challenging them to come up with viable solutions to problems that often have no clear right or wrong answer. Just as important, these assignments—unlike, say, essays or class presentations—allow instructors to “watch” students’ decision-making processes as they click through the exercise, providing further insight into the best ways to teach the complex issues they are presenting.

An early study of the impact of these products found that a whopping 68 percent of students agreed or strongly agreed that classes with these online products increased their appreciation for understanding science in international contexts.

Our next step will be to support our instructors’ more strategic and measurable approaches to curricular internationalization—an inventory and assessment of the “international content” in their departments, for example, or of an entire major. That will be tough to do for a moving target like global change—and that’s the point.

Even if we take it at its broadest definition—“to put more global content into the university experience”—the urgency to further “internationalize” CALS curricula has only gained traction.
And our students know it.

Visit the following website to learn more about the program and projects described in this article:

Want to take part in the CALS Science Internationalization Project? Contact author Masarah Van Eyck at, or tel. (608) 890-4196.

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