Chapter 1. Background and Introduction

We look to science, technology, and engineering to increase the nation’s productivity and economic well-being, advance healthcare, improve the environment, help ensure national security, and help educate our youth. The increasing economic role of science, technology, and engineering has, in turn, increased demand for all types of scientific, technical and engineering (ST&E) workers, from technicians to Ph.D. research scientists and engineers.

ST&E workers are essential contributors to both the public and private sectors. In the private sector, they help propel the economy and provide valuable services, such as healthcare. In the public sector, ST&E workers support important federal missions, such as maintaining a strong U.S. science and engineering enterprise and advancing biomedical research, national defense, environmental protection, energy conversion efficiency, food supply safety, and space exploration. For all these reasons, it is prudent to examine, to the extent possible, what actions will ensure that the nation has an adequate ST&E workforce in the 21st century.

[From: Ensuring a Strong U.S. Scientific, Technical, and Engineering Workforce
in the 21st Century, National Science and Technology Council Report, April 2000]

Scientific and technological research and education are increasingly global in nature, and other countries are increasing their investments in these areas (National Science Board, Science and Engineering Indicators—2000). It is critically important to the nation’s science and technology (S&T) enterprise that U.S. scientists and engineers, at early stages in their careers, develop the international experience and capabilities to support and participate in these activities. This sentiment resonates, most recently, in an interim report from the National Science Board on the NSF role in international science and engineering, especially in broadening opportunities for students and young researchers (National Science Board, Toward a More Effective NSF Role in International Science and Engineering—Interim Report). Beyond the opportunities presented by new global communication technologies, efforts to engage future generations of U.S. scientists and engineers in gaining first-hand professional experience beyond this nation’s borders are essential, and should continue. Addition of an international dimension to successful, established models for undergraduate science and engineering education could have an immediate and positive impact on educational quality in the global scientific context.

Currently, the NSF Office of International Science and Engineering (INT) sponsors several activities that accommodate the international study and training needs of U.S. graduate students in science and engineering on either an individual (dissertation enhancement awards) or group (summer institutes) basis. Similarly, international postdoctoral fellowships support specialized individual research activities at foreign sites. The implementation by the Foundation of international Research Experiences for Undergraduates (international REU) addresses the need for a globally-competent workforce broadly by strengthening the S&T training of young scholar-scientist-engineers. Such international research opportunities provide direct exposure to the international scientific and engineering communities. Several successful models exist for domestic REU sites and international graduate student summer institutes. The experiences of successful (and, perhaps, unsuccessful) domestic REU sites and international graduate student institutes can offer important lessons for effective international REU site design and management. However, these models do not universally provide for many of the particular needs of undergraduates in a foreign setting.

Presently, REU site directors informally share their best practices and lessons learned with Foundation program officers who often act as agents of information exchange. The collective experiences of these earlier NSF-supported international REU site programs, suitably gathered together and organized, provide a wealth of useful information to researcher-educators for the planning, development and execution of new, educationally sound international site programs. Timing is right for distillation of lessons learned and formulation of a reference manual describing “Best Practices” for NSF international REU site programs.

International REU site programs can promote the development of a globally competent workforce, especially in those fields where the professional degree is the baccalaureate or masters degree. The junior and senior years are an optimal time for the immersion of undergraduate students in an intensive international research experience; their scholarly interests are likely still quite broad, and the experience may foster a decision to pursue careers in science and engineering. In contrast, graduate students who are fully engaged in research studies in their home laboratories often find it difficult to free themselves for the extended period of time that most programs require.

Access to practical, field-tested advice can help international REU site project directors avoid unnecessary pitfalls and improve the success rate of new projects. This handbook has been created to meet the need for a succinct reference that will be useful in the development of your new activity.

Chapter 2- Program Development

Last updated July, 2002