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Georgia Journal of Science

Article Title

IMPACTS OF A FIELD-BASED, INTERDISCIPLINARY STUDY ABROAD PROGRAM IN BELIZE ON STUDENT LEARNING AT THE UNIVERSITY OF WEST GEORGIA**

Abstract

STEM majors are often unable to participate in study abroad courses due to rigors of studies and intense timeframes of courses. Through a carefully planned field based hands-on program, students participated in a short-term study abroad course to Belize in May 2017 to learn about biological, cultural, and information literacy concepts, that was woven into the existing Department of Biology curriculum at the University of West Georgia (UWG). The local ecosystems of Belize become the classroom for 10-days while students (many traveling internationally for the first time) experienced personal, academic and professional discovery. Students interacted with professionals in the field and saw a diverse set of biological disciplines during the program, thus becoming aware of the endless opportunities available to them following graduation. Since this is the first study abroad course offered through the Department of Biology at UWG, it is important to evaluate the success of this program in achieving its goals related to student learning and success. Students enrolled in the course were asked complete two identical questionnaires prior to travel and again upon their return to the United States to assess personal growth, intercultural awareness and growth, critical thinking skills, professional goals, desire for future international travel, understanding of key biological concepts, their attitude towards natural resource conservation and their understanding of global climate changes. Future study abroad courses will be adjusted based on the outcomes of the study, and instructors will be able to tailor course content to match student needs. Additionally, the results from this study will serve as evidence on the importance of studying abroad, especially in the STEM fields, and the need for additional international STEM programs at UWG.

Acknowledgements

UWG Dept. of Biology, GA Board of Regents' STEM Education Improvement Plan Grant

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