Chapter 4. Program Planning

4.1 Develop a management plan

An essential component to any program's success is a thoughtful, comprehensive and effective management plan. Develop one. Assemble this early in the program planning stage, since it provides a clear framework for the preparation of the administrative budget. A project management timeline is a useful first step (Section 4.6). Include a chronology of major program deadlines and the necessary needs of administrative support and human resources, as well as the timing of fiscal expenditures. Codify and distribute the management plan to all concerned parties, including the host institution and partners. A well-informed staff that recognizes their roles will effectively handle routine matters and most problems without undue burden to the director.

4.1.1 Identify a management team
Programs involving more than a few students from a single institution increase the administrative burden and, in many cases, cannot be effectively managed through the efforts of a single individual. Whereas a single director can provide overall leadership to the program, an administrative assistant (full- or part-time according to program size) will be critically important in managing the day-to-day activities, especially during the advertising and application periods when significant time will be spent in responding to applicant requests for material, and in receiving and screening submitted applications. Consider co-directors as an option, especially if access to support staff is limited.

Carefully anticipate the number of mentors (both domestic and international) according to the nature and needs of the program, and implement a scheme for recruitment and selection. Seek continuity commitments from the best mentors so subsequent students benefit from their mentoring skills.

Whereas the major focus on management team development is on administrators [director and co-director(s)], mentors and support personnel, give special attention also to student assistants, who can be essential in the success of an international REU program. Graduate student assistants on the domestic side can help specifically in the screening and the selection of student participants, in communicating with the participants before they arrive, in greeting them on arrival, in running "getting to know you" social programs, and generally in helping out with the "chemistry" of the whole event. One or more of the student assistants can be sent along to the foreign site to act as both a chaperone and as a leader and liaison between U.S. students and the foreign site director and staff. Advanced undergraduates (perhaps program alumni) can play these roles in programs with no access to graduate students. Of course, faculty members can assume these roles, too. In reciprocal programs (Section 3.1.5), a graduate student chaperone/leader may accompany foreign participants to the domestic program and play similar roles in reverse, while also helping to orient U.S. students before their foreign travel.

Prepare job descriptions for the management team, especially if program staff are shared with other projects or offices. In the case of student assistants, or others whose associations with the program may be temporary or rotating, the key components and responsibilities must be clearly identified. For the student assistants mentioned above, note the importance or necessity of foreign language skills, availability as first point of contact, and the importance of this position during the early stages of the program at the foreign site.

Identification of a single purchasing agent or administrative/accounting/travel officer on campus facilitates the preparation of program-related paperwork; make every effort to inform this person of the nature of the program and of the anticipated timetable of expenditures, and of administrative and financial reports. A travel coordinator, as part of the management team, handles this aspect of the program for the director, and acts efficiently as a liaison between the program and travel service offices inside and outside the university.

4.1.2 Know the real management burden
The management burden of an international REU program can quickly become overwhelming, especially for a single project director. No-cost solutions are available in part through relief from, or rescheduling of, other university obligations. Cooperation from the home institution administration is valuable; make every effort to "sell" the project, especially before it is launched (Section 3.2.2).

4.1.3 Establish and monitor program costs
In order to avoid budgetary shortfalls and other problems, pay careful attention to anticipated program costs during preparation of the initial budget and to actual expenditures once underway. Sort costs into administrative and program categories that may be fixed to some extent, and into participant costs that may scale more directly with the number of student participants. Some examples of these costs are:
Administrative CostsProgram CostsParticipant Costs
  • Administrative assistant salary
  • Summer salary for director
  • Postage, photocopy, telephone
  • Office equipment/supplies
  • Fees to travel agent or other service contractors
  • Advertising
  • Pre-departure orientation
  • Language training
  • Web site, newsletter
  • Travel Expenses of Director
  • Opening/closing activities
  • Group activities (foreign site visit travel and expenses)
  • Evaluation/assessment
  • Travel expenses (international and local, on-site)
  • Housing
  • Allowance/stipend
  • Laboratory fees or supply budget for foreign host
  • Insurance
  • Passport/visa fees

4.1.4 Seek cost effectiveness, efficiency, and scaling effects related to program size
Since some program costs are fixed (or have incremental thresholds according to participant number), there are clear savings through efficiency if participant number is optimized. For example, if language class size is optimized at 10 students, it might make sense to set the number of program participants at a multiple of ten (other factors being equal). Similarly, subtle differences in the composition of the participant pool can have larger effects; for example, even numbers of male and female participants can most effectively fill double-occupancy housing that is paid by the room rather than by simply the number of participants. Some group costs can be contained when students are centralized at a single facility.

4.1.5 Bear in mind the realistic costs for the project director
Project director costs include not only the time committed to the project, but also the loss of other opportunities. The personal and professional cost of running an international REU site program will be large. Institutional commitment and formal recognition of the director's efforts can help to offset the potential negative consequences of time spent on activities that do not garner the sorts of recognition that accrue through traditional research activities, scholarly publication, and university and professional service.

Find effective and creative solutions to the competing demands on the project director. Incorporate research publication and productivity building into the project director's participation (for example, through careful selection and tuning of research focus). Adopt a model of co-directorship when designing the management plan, and include funds for administrative support in the budget request to NSF.

4.1.6 Anticipate staff time commitments
Carefully assemble projections of future program expenditures as part of a project timeline. Do not minimize or underestimate the commitment of staff time (and its cost), especially in the first year of a program. The time and effort needed to answer questions, handle applications, reserve housing, line up mentors, etc., are substantial.

4.2 Promote interactions with existing domestic REU sites or research centers

Interactions with existing domestic REU sites or research centers have strong positive effects. Linkage with a successful domestic REU program or with a research center provides access to experienced, research field-specific domestic faculty mentors. If the center has international ties with one or more foreign universities, centers or research institutes, a framework may already exist for cooperation in developing and operating an international REU program. Ideally, such a framework facilitates bi-directional student movements in the international REU program (Sections 3.1.5 and 3.1.6). If an existing domestic REU program or research center has a strong reputation, a new international REU program will gain immediate credibility by association (Section 4.2.2).

4.2.1 Foster strong institutional grounding on domestic and international sides
Interaction with an existing domestic REU site provides an immediate strong institutional grounding for the international program. It is likely that the domestic program already has a supporting infrastructure that can be expanded to include a new international component. This permits greater efficiency of scaling compared with a standalone international REU program, especially during pilot phase operation. Additionally, an established domestic program will have a solid scientific focus and core "culture" that enriches the international program.

4.2.2 Cultivate appropriate degree of (in)dependence for international REU program
Importantly, the international REU program must develop an appropriate degree of independence and identity. It cannot be simply an international extension of the domestic program, even though the international experience may be quite valuable for the student participant in its own right. Rather, there should be real added scientific value in the international component. More than just adding an international component with its effect on cultural broadening, the international REU program will exploit some unique or special resource (intellectual or natural resource, or research facilities) through international collaboration. Certainly, there is great strength abroad in some fields.

4.2.3 Build alliances
Build alliances regionally or nationally with REU programs in similar fields of science and engineering, and with other international REU programs. Benefit by sharing information and ideas with this network, or "community," of REU programs and administrators. Engage a leadership group to develop a Web site or listserv. Provide contact information for program directors and shared access to program resources such as calendars of events, database of speakers, and evaluation questionnaire templates and other forms.

4.2.4 Use affiliations and partnerships to recruit "research experienced" participants
If student participation in a previous research project is preferred for international REU program applicants, domestic REU and other research programs offer convenient recruiting access to qualified students in appropriate fields. Establish personal contacts with administrators of these programs.

4.2.5 Include an element of vertical integration, and "bundling"
Involvement of faculty, postdoctoral scholars and graduate students with the REU program adds vertical integration to the program. Importantly, access to scientists and engineers at various stages of their careers can assist junior scholars in discovering the field and in charting their future career courses. Consider bundling programs (or, at least some of their activities) with the international REU program. For example, explore linkage with an NSF Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship (IGERT) program or with an NSF Research Experience for Teachers (RET) program. Bundling with an RET program might be manifested as REU-RET participant pairing in an international context. Partnerships with RET represent a long-term investment since the teacher-participants ideally will share their international experiences with future undergraduates in their high schools. On-line resources are available at:

NSF Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship Program (IGERT)

NSF Research Experience for Teachers (RET)

4.3 Note calendar issues

The design of a program calendar quickly becomes a complex matter especially if participation includes students from more than a single domestic institution. Due to differences in academic calendars at U.S institutions and foreign institutions, student participants may complete their scholastic obligations any time in the month of May (for schools following a semester system), or even as late as mid-June (for schools on the quarter or trimester systems). Similarly, starting times for schools occur from mid-August through early September. Combining these elements over which the project director has little personal control, the calendar window for summer international REU activities narrows to a period between mid-June and late-August. Although one innovative solution may be the incorporation of flexible components for students, as is the case for internships in industry, this must be balanced with the need for full attendance during some program components (e.g., coursework and training workshops, and student symposia).

4.3.1 Establish duration of foreign site program
The maximum practical duration of the foreign site program is probably 8-to-10 weeks. Efforts to extend that duration can compromise the desirable group-centered opening and closing activities as home institution calendar considerations impinge on the schedule, and as participants' academic obligations draw them away. For an international REU program under the single-institution model, consider scheduling the closing activities and/or the student reporting session at the home campus in September (Section 6.7).

4.3.2 Weigh compatibility with host institution calendar
The academic calendar of the foreign host institution also constrains program timing, especially if multiple foreign institutions are involved. If the international REU program is large and there is an intention to use host institutional housing, carefully coordinate accommodations for student participants in dormitory facilities well in advance to avoid conflicts. For smaller groups this is less of a concern.

4.4 Heed funding considerations

4.4.1 Time funding application relative to program dates
Significant lead-time is necessary to assure that funds are in hand when program-related expenditures actually begin. Agency decisions on funding typically require 6 months, and sometimes longer. If expenditures for a summer international REU program begin in the preceding fall (advertising costs, for example; see timeline, Section 4.6 and Appendix 2), then a realistic deadline for application submission is at the start of that calendar year, a date almost one-and-one-half years in advance of the anticipated program start date. Of course, this degree of advance planning will affect only the first program offering under a multi-year award. If institutional funds can cover the early advertising costs, then a delay in the actual delivery of funds may be acceptable since the next substantial expenditures will occur in the spring when travel arrangements will be made. If a planning grant was used to develop the international REU site program, some promotional activities may be possible under the terms of that award given sufficient funds. In the end, however, plan early to avoid mismatches with established agency funding cycles.

4.4.2 Inquire about longer-term funding
The additional lead-time required for operating an international REU site program (compared with a domestic program), coupled with the need for timely funding to cover early program needs, can be addressed practically through longer-term awards that increase the interval between the preparation of renewal proposals. The continuity assured through longer-term funding is beneficial, too, since international research labs need to be cultivated as hosting sites. Five-year awards (rather than the more typical three-year duration) make sense for international REU programs, and especially those that may operate on an every-other-year basis. Engage program officers in discussions of timetables for planning and execution, and explore alternative funding schemes that realistically address project needs for additional time in program planning and recruitment; for example, explore the possibility of three years of funds with an award duration of four years. Otherwise, good student participants may be lost to competing research opportunities if acceptance to the international REU program is made "subject to funding."

4.5 Do a risk assessment: safety and security

Arrange a meeting between the project director and the REU program administrative team with officers at the sponsoring home institution to assess program risk. Include appropriate university officers in this important discussion; at a minimum, invite the general counsel for the institution and other officers according to program needs. For example, directors of REU site projects in the field of chemistry might choose to consult with an office of environmental health and safety, whereas directors of projects in marine science might consult with a campus diving and/or medical officer. Since the sponsoring university may have significant liability exposure based on the nature of the research work and on the age of the participants, a risk assessment exercise and safety plan protects the interests of all. For field projects, especially, build risk mitigation costs into the budget.

4.5.1 Collect the necessary permissions and clearances
From the risk assessment exercise, derive suggestions for the program application form and other paperwork needed to address both general and specific liability issues. These documents include, variably: (1) waiver of liability form, (2) parental permission and travel release form, (3) health insurance information and consent-to-treat form, and (4) medical clearance form that requires the certification of a physician that the applicant is fit to participate in the program (Appendix 3). Use these documents to disclose accurately and specifically the risks or challenges imposed by program participation (for example, risks of international travel generally, geographical isolation of the group, stressful working conditions, endemic diseases, potential chemical exposures or other health concerns at the foreign site, etc.).

Engage the appropriate officers at the international host institute to ascertain if there are additional requirements for permissions and liability waiver forms at the host site, or if there are requirements for special insurance (e.g., chemical lab safety insurance); determine these. For field projects, research permits or residency permits for researchers may be required. Early discussion with the foreign host institute resolves these issues, and the necessary paperwork can be sent with the other home-side forms to participants, and be received by the program office in timely fashion. With the assistance of the appropriate "country desk" at the State Department, or the appropriate foreign offices, look into the need for special permits or clearances to operate at the foreign site and into issues of citizenship immunity. Avoid "short cuts;" cover all official bases and always "do the right thing."

For programs with reciprocal elements, coordinate foreign student visits with the appropriate international affairs office on campus. Determine the visa requirements for student visitors under the program, the necessity of supporting documentation and forms (for example, letters of guarantee and Form IAP-66), and the timetable for requesting the necessary visas and forms.

4.5.2 Assure Safety and Security
International travel carries with it inherent risks, since both participants and staff will be outside the protective borders of the United States. Abrupt changes in political stability and surprise terrorist actions in the air or on the ground are not impossible events in today's world. International REU program directors are alert to this potential for personal harm, even if it is slight. Protect the interests of participants, staff, home and host institutions, and sponsoring agencies by evaluating these risks and completing these proactive precautionary steps:

If concerns regarding safety and security do arise, do not proceed with the international site program until a risk analysis has been repeated; if the program is underway, call the participants and staff home if warranted. Consider devising a "backup" domestic program, although this may be a luxury reserved for center-based REU programs capable of securing an adequate number of qualified mentors on short notice.

4.5.3 Conceive and implement an emergency management plan
Develop contingency plans for some emergency situations and be ready to set the appropriate precautionary or reactionary measures in place. For example, in the case of a field study at a remote locale, have plans for emergency communication and for medical evacuation. Following on the example of a field expedition, risk assessment studies may also reveal the need for additional material and training support (medical supplies and training, CPR training requirement for all participants, satellite telephone for emergency communication, etc.). Involve students in this responsibility. Similarly, establish a prescribed chain of command in the event of injury or incapacitation of the group's leader, and brief all participants on this in advance. In some situations, by necessity, the chain of command includes one or more student participants who may be called upon in various means for support or leadership.

Conceive an evacuation plan for individuals and for the entire program group, in the event it is needed. Coordination with the U.S. Embassy is essential in an emergency situation, when instructions may be issued to all American visitors (Section 4.5.2).

Include in the emergency management plan clear instructions for contacting the American Embassy at the foreign site, and for communicating a roster of participants. Maintain a list of emergency contacts and procedures in a centralized office accessible to all participants.

4.5.4 Have family contact information in case of emergency
Be certain that the on-site supervisor (American REU director or international host administrator) has emergency contact information and signed consent-to-treat forms for each student participant. Collect this information as part of the pre-trip paperwork from accepted applicants and make several photocopies for distribution to on-site program staff. Respect the privacy of this information (Section 5.1.4).

4.6 Develop an individualized international REU program timeline

According to its nature and size, each international REU site program develops a somewhat unique calendar. A sample timeline for a representative summer program's annual cycle is presented in Appendix 2. It organizes the major events from the perspectives of the home-side program office, the international counterpart and student-participant perspective. Smaller REU site programs with student participants from a single institution will adopt simpler, compressed timelines. Note that the time span of activities for a single program cycle (including advertising and follow-up surveys) can easily exceed one year in duration and, as a consequence, calendars for consecutive annual programs will overlap.

Chapter 5 - Pre - Program Activities

Last updated July, 2002