When Katie Yang, SEAS '17, a premedical student, and a biomedical engineering major, considered studying abroad, she quickly reached the conclusion that many engineering students do: She would not be able to both study abroad and graduate on time.
As a result of this perception, a large number of SEAS students have never considered studying abroad—or give up the idea entirely.
"I think that it really is a matter of student's perception, and I don't think that it's real," said Leora Brovman, associate dean for undergraduate student affairs at SEAS and a SEAS-specific advising dean for global programs. "With the right kind of planning ... and the right kind of advising, it's absolutely possible for engineering students to study abroad."
This perception in fact hurts students' chances of ever studying abroad, since engineers need to plan as early as their first year if they want to go abroad, according to Brovman.
"I would not be doing SEAS students a favor by saying, 'You can just decide fall of sophomore year you want to go abroad spring of sophomore year, and it's going to happen,'" Brovman said.
Apart from heavy course loads and rigid major requirements, some students think that study abroad is made more challenging because there are fewer engineering-focused study abroad opportunities offered at Columbia.
Neha Jain, SEAS '17 and vice president of finance for the Engineering Student Council, said she noticed that students had concerns about a lack of engineering-specific programs.
"[At an ESC meeting], I remember one of the first-years was talking about how he was frustrated that there weren't more study abroad opportunities specifically for engineers," Jain said.
However, there are over 80 approved programs in science, technology, engineering and mathematics disciplines listed in the database of the Office of Global Programs, as well as a process in place to petition for other programs to be counted for credit toward a student's degree.
The key challenge for the Office of Global Programs is demonstrating to engineering students that study abroad is possible for them.
"I think unfortunately it's also a matter of those first communications that students hear when they step on campus," Brovman said. "The first messages the incoming students hear are that engineering students can't, and don't, study abroad."
SEAS administrators have been combating this perception through engineering-specific study abroad advising and events like overSEAS, study abroad information sessions tailored toward engineering students.
"We are consistently working on our messaging through the overSEAS workshops that we have, through our Facebook page, through having tables set up in Lerner Hall, outside Mudd, where we invite students to come over and talk about study abroad opportunities."
OverSEAS hosted its first event of the year last night, covering a wide range of topics including what makes students eligible to study abroad, where they could go, what courses they could take, and who to consult on campus for advice to get started.
Since engineering major requirements are so stringent, Brovman offers one-tonone advising in order to help students plan for the next few semesters, ensuring that students can satisfy all of their more specific engineering requirements on campus.
Sid Perkins, SEAS '17, is one student who said that he has benefited from Brovman's outreach efforts and advising service.
"I found out about [the summer research program] through one of the dean's emails. So Dean Brovman sent out a big email blast that said, 'You can apply to this program,' and she helped me out with the application process," Perkins said.
According to Brovman, these efforts have yielded positive results.
"This past year, we had up to around 30 students over the course of the year that studied abroad—which may not sound like a big number, but we have seen that number grow," Brovman said. "And that's the piece that I think is missing, is that the number is growing."