Getting International about International Education

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Fall is the time when many students begin planning for the semesters ahead, including possible study abroad. For those who want to make international interest a part of their degrees, the International Plan (IP) offers a comprehensive way to do that.

The IP is an optional degree designator, in which a series of experiential and course requirements is built into a student's major. While they can join at any time, most students typically join as first-years. Completion of the IP results in a special designation on the diploma, indicating that a student has made international education a central part of his or her learning experience. 

To complete the program, students spend at least six months abroad engaged in study, internship, or research; demonstrate proficiency in a foreign language; take three globally focused courses; and complete a culminating capstone project.

By creating a coherent plan that immerses the student in a language and culture, and by incorporating complementary global coursework into the program, IP students gain valuable insights into their host culture, their own culture, and the global context in which they will one day work.

These insights benefit students in any field, regardless of where they go after Georgia Tech. Employers increasingly report a need to recruit graduates who have global perspectives, can work with diverse teams, and are flexible, open-minded, and able to approach problems from more than one angle. IP graduates regularly cite these attributes as key takeaways from the program.

“Not only did I personally enjoy my time studying and living abroad, but in terms of academic and career opportunities, I was able to relate so many of my experiences to a skill my employers were seeking,” said Michelle Lee, a 2015 industrial engineering and IP graduate. “My time abroad also allowed me to relate to a diverse group of people, which was very helpful as diversity is so ingrained in the country and society I live in.”

Although it is becoming more common for universities to offer global minors and certificates, the IP remains unique in its depth. Many similar programs require a shorter amount of time abroad, such as 5-6 weeks versus IP’s six months. In addition, the IP becomes part of a student's major, not a side pursuit. 

Becky Byler, a 2013 biomedical engineering and IP graduate, came to Tech in part because of the IP offering. Now, she’s pursuing a Ph.D. at Yale University.

“Studying, working, and researching abroad through the International Plan truly developed me into the ‘humanitarian engineer’ that I am today,” Byler said. “I became a biomedical engineer fluent in discussing and solving technical problems in Spanish, and a contributing member of several multinational teams. Through programs like the International Plan, we have the tools to train the next generation.”

Since the inception of the IP in 2005, Tech's internationalization has increased significantly. The number of international programs available to students has increased by 75 percent, and the undergraduate participation rate in international experiences has increased from 33 percent to 54 percent. The IP also led to the founding of the Global Internship Program (formerly Work Abroad), which now sends nearly 200 students abroad for internships each year. The IP directly contributes to Tech’s strategic goal of graduating good global citizens.

The Office of International Education supports IP students by offering special sections of GT 1000 for newly accepted IP students, opportunities to network with IP upperclassmen and alumni, and specialized advising on pathways to completing the program. OIE also works with academic units to ensure adequate international opportunities for students in each major, to keep the IP curriculum current, and to administer the IP capstones. 

To date, 253 students have graduated with the IP designation. Hear what Spring 2017 graduates had to say about their experience.

Students interested in pursuing the IP should apply for this year by Friday, Sept. 1. Apply online at oie.gatech.edu/ip_apply.

For those who want to learn more, an information session on Tuesday, Sept. 12, will cover study abroad and IP in Room 301, Student Center. Students can also set up a time to talk with an advisor by emailing internationalplan@oie.gatech.edu.