Preparing globally competent students in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM)
Edward M. Reeve
Department of Engineering and Technology Education
Utah State University
Logan, Utah USA
Edward M. Reeve
Reeve, E. M. (2014). Preparing globally competent students in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). Asian International Journal of Social Sciences, 14(3), 12 – 26. Retrieved from http://aijss.org/index.php/aijss20140302/
Today’s college graduates must be prepared to work and compete in our globalized world.
They must be globally competent (i.e., have an understanding of the world around them).
Global awareness is a new 21st century skill that all instructors should strive to build into
their curricula and programs. Being globally competent in the Science, Technology,
Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) areas is especially important since many of the
world’s problems and issues are being addressed by STEM professionals. Major topics
presented in this paper include an introduction to globalization, a discussion on global
competency, and a discussion on how to develop globally competent students who are
enrolled in STEM.
Keywords: engineering, global competency, globalization, mathematics, science, STEM, technology
Today, students throughout the world must be prepared to live and work in our 21st century
global society. The world is becoming increasingly more globalized and interconnected every
day. Migration is changing the demographics of our communities as we now find ourselves
interacting daily with people from around the world. Today’s college and university
graduates are competing for jobs and opportunities on a global scale with their neighbors
from around the world. For example, in the United States (U.S.), the economy is so globally
interconnected that one in five jobs is now tied to international trade (U.S. Census Bureau,
Thinking globally is a 21st century skill that must begin at an early age and be integrated
across traditional subject areas. For example, the Partnership for 21st Century Skills
(www.p21.org), a national organization in the U.S. that advocates for 21st century readiness
for all students, promotes integrating “global awareness” into all the core subjects. In their
publication Learning Environments: A 21st Century Skills Implementation Guide (Partnership
for 21st Century Skills, 2009), they challenge schools in the U.S. to focus beyond teaching
mastery of the core subject areas, and help students become globally competent. Other 21st
century skills promoted by this organization include helping students to become critical
thinkers, problem solvers, good communicators, good collaborators, information and
technology literate, flexible and adaptable, innovative and creative, and financially literate.
All students need to be global thinkers in the 21st century because today the “world is flat.” In
a flat world, all people are connected, and all the competitors have equal opportunities. The
concepts of a flat world are presented in Tom Friedman’s bestselling book, The World is
Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century (2005/2006/2007), where he argues that
technology and hi-tech telecommunications have removed impediments to international
competition. He further discusses how tomorrow’s college graduates will be competing with
others from around the world on a “level” playing field, and they must be given opportunities
in college to think globally and become globally competent.
Globalization and its effects are changing the world in which we live. The forces of
globalization (e.g., social networking, incredible connectivity, the increasing power and
reliance on technology and science, and unimaginable amounts of information) are impacting
all of our lives. As the world becomes more connected, we need to be able to communicate
with one another, live with one another, and where possible, make common cause (Gardner,
Clark (2002) views globalization as a transformation where we view and experience the
world as a single place, a place where “thinking globally” means viewing the world as a
single integrated entity. Preparing students for the 21st century require providing them with a
solid understanding of the “core knowledge” in their field of study and providing them with
opportunities to become globally competent. A globally competent student has a body of
knowledge about world regions, cultures, and global issues, and the skills and dispositions to
engage responsibly and effectively in a global environment (Longview Foundation, 2008).
Global competencies are obtained through a “global education” that promotes global
In the Global Education Guidelines: A Handbook for Educators to Understand and Implement
Global Education. (Cabezudo et al., 2008) published by the North-South Centre of the Council of
Europe, they note that “global education is an education perspective which arises from the fact that
contemporary people live and interact in an increasingly globalised world” (p. 10). They further
note that it is crucial for those involved in educating today’s students to provide learners with the
opportunity and competencies to reflect and share their own point of view and role within a global,
interconnected society. Students must understand and discuss complex relationships of common
social, ecological, political and economic issues, so as to derive new ways of thinking and acting.
Globalization and it effects are especially important to students involved in the Science,
Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) areas. Many of the key global issues
(e.g., demand of renewable/sustainable energy, climate/change/global warming, and
environmental clean-up/remediation) the world faces today will be addressed and solved by
those involved in the STEM disciplines. Instructors involved in these disciplines must work
to develop and deliver STEM curricula with a global dimension. A STEM curriculum that
infuses global awareness into it helps to build globally competent students who can compete
in today’s global society.
The major purposes of this paper are to introduce the reader to concepts associated with
globalization, discuss traits associated with being globally competent, and to present a
discussion on how higher education STEM instructors can develop globally competent
students. Note: This paper is presented from a U.S. point of view; however, most of the
information presented can easily be adapted by instructors from anywhere in the world.
When discussing terms (e.g., globalization or international) related to preparing globally
competent students, it is important to define relevant terms. To help set the context for this
paper, the following terms are defined: competency, culture, curriculum, technology,
international education, internationalization, global and globalization and, global competence.
Competency: In an educational situation, competency typically refers to a student’s ability to
demonstrate knowledge and skills at a predetermined acceptable standard or level.
Culture: A term with many meanings. For this paper, culture will refer to the attitudes,
behaviors, and customary beliefs that are characteristic of a particular group of people (e.g.,
Curriculum: A curriculum provides the specific details on how content is to be delivered,
including organization, balance and the various ways of presenting the content in the
laboratory or classroom.
Technology: Technology involves modifying the natural world to make it a better place to
live and work. There are many types of technologies (e.g., information, manufacturing, and
medical technology). Technology uses technological equipment, skills, tools, and knowledge
to solve problems and extend human capabilities. Because of technology, people can live
longer, communicate over thousands of kilometers, drink clean water, or explore the world
via the Internet. Around the world, technology exists in many different forms and is often
dictated by the needs of society.
International Education: Historically, international education was the term of choice to
describe the international dimensions of higher education in the USA. International education
is still a popular term; however, today the term is slowly being replaced by the term
internationalization. International education, as well as internationalization, recognizes
international dimensions and activities at an institution, including such activities as:
- Student and Faculty Exchange
- Study and Work Abroad
- Foreign Language Study
- Area Studies
- International Studies
- International Development Activities
- Joint Degree Programs
- Comparative Studies (ACE, 2003)
Internationalization: The term internationalization is often used in an educational setting
and it means to bring an international or global perspective to the topic or concept being
studied. A curriculum that is internationalized provides students with more than a parochial
view of the content being studied; it provides them with a “view of the world.” A popular
definition by Knight (1994) defines internationalization as “the process of integrating an
international/intercultural dimension into the teaching, research, and service functions of the
Global and Globalization: The terms global and globalization have many meanings and are
often used in political and business settings, and pertain to happenings in the world (e.g.,
issues related to global warming, or global health). Globalization deals with the
interconnectedness of nations, economies, regions, cultures, and ecosystems (ACE, 2003). In
a political setting, globalization is the process of denationalization of markets, politics and
legal systems, that is, the rise of the so-called “global economy.” In a business setting,
globalization occurs when companies decide to take part in the emerging global economy and
establish themselves in foreign markets (Joyce, 2007).
Global Competence: The term “global competence” is used to describe a body of knowledge
about world regions, cultures, and global issues, and the skills and dispositions to engage
responsibly and effectively in a global environment (Longview Foundation, 2008).
An introduction to globalization
In today’s world, the effects of globalization impact us on a daily basis. But what is
globalization? The Levin Institute (n.d.) presents a discussion on globalization and notes that
“globalization is a process of interaction and integration among the people, companies, and
governments of different nations, a process driven by international trade and investment and
aided by information technology.” Furthermore, they note, “this process has effects on the
environment, on culture, on political systems, on economic development and prosperity, and
on human physical well-being in societies around the world.”
Most people believe globalization is a recent trend; however, this is not true. The Levin
Institute notes that for thousands of years, people, and later, corporations, have been buying
from and selling to each other in lands at great distances. A good example of this is the
“famed Silk Road across Central Asia” that connected China and Europe during the Middle
Ages. Furthermore, for centuries, people and corporations have invested in enterprises in
One of the principle drivers of globalization has been technology. For example, in the areas
related to information and communication technology, many easy-to-use technologies (e.g.,
Skype or mobile phones) have made it easy for people to collaborate and share ideas around
the world. Furthermore, advances in transportation technology have made it easier to move
people and goods around the world, and the Internet has connected all of us together.
The effects of globalization are everywhere. The essential “technology toys and tools” (e.g.,
cell phones, video game systems, MP3 players, computers, ear buds, HDTVs, etc.), of
today’s young people were most likely made in a foreign location, and this typically includes
the clothes they are wearing. Globalization can easily be seen in the number of foreign-made
cars on our motorways, and the number of imported goods found in our local stores and
shopping malls. Furthermore, globalization has even begun to affect the food we eat (e.g.,
frozen seafood, fruits and vegetables, candy, and even bottled water) as more countries begin
to produce food for export.
Is globalization good or bad? It all depends on whom you ask and how it has affected their
lives. For many, they view globalization as good because it has brought “cheap” goods to the
stores. However, for those who have lost their jobs because of outsourcing to a foreign
country, globalization may be viewed as being bad.
Rothenberg (No. 176, 2002-2003) views globalization as a process of interaction and
integration. He defines globalization as “the acceleration and intensification of interaction
and integration among the people, companies, and governments” (p. 2) and discusses “three
tensions” of globalization that instructors can incorporate in their lessons to examine the
various positive and negative effects associated with globalization. These three tensions of
globalization relate to: (1) Individual choice versus societal choice (e.g., the spread of
American culture to other countries); (2) The free market versus government intervention
(e.g., the government failing to provide consumers with “reasonable prices” for the services
they provide) and, (3) Local authority versus supra-local authority (e.g., international
organizations making decisions without any input from the people that are affected by them).
Today’s college graduates need to be globally competent. The Longview Foundation (2008)
in its publication Teacher Preparation for the Global Age: The Imperative for Change notes
that “economic, social, and technological transformations are linking us in unprecedented
ways” (p.3) and discuss the need to prepare 21st century citizens who have extensive
knowledge of the world and the skills and dispositions to engage with people from many
different cultures and countries. Today in the U.S., most universities and colleges make it part
of their mission statement to note that they are preparing students who can live and work in
today’s global society. Furthermore, most professional organizations and associations that
higher education personnel participate in promote ideals associated with global engagement.
What does it mean to be globally competent? There are many meanings. In the very basic
sense, being globally competent means that you are able to understand the world around you.
It means that you know there are various people from around the world and that they are
different from you. It means knowing that you live in a world consisting of people who have
different beliefs, languages, lifestyles, religions, customs, currency, and political
surroundings that influence their daily lives.
In the academy, being a globally competent student takes on many dimensions and these
dimensions are often influenced by the student’s major field of study (e.g., business,
humanities, engineering, education, or science). Russo, S. L. & Osborne L.A. (n.d.) in their
discussion on what it means to be a globally competent student in higher education note five
general characteristics they would possess. These characteristics can help those developing
curricula and programs that build global competency. The competencies note that a globally
1. Has a diverse and knowledgeable worldview.
2. Comprehends international dimensions of his/her major field of study.
3. Communicates effectively in another language and/or cross-culturally.
4. Exhibits cross-cultural sensitivity and adaptability.
5. Carries global competencies throughout life.
The Longview Foundation (2008) presents a very good discussion on what globally
competent students and teachers in education should posses. These competencies (listed
below) can be used by others in higher education to help guide their efforts to build programs
and curricula that develop global competency skills in students. Specifically they note:
A globally competent student has:
Knowledge of and curiosity about the world’s history, geography, cultures,
environmental and economic systems, and current international issues.
Language and cross-cultural skills to communicate effectively with people from other
countries, understand multiple perspectives, and use primary sources from around the
A commitment to ethical citizenship.
To teach students to be globally competent requires teachers to be globally competent.
Globally competent teachers must have the knowledge, skills, and dispositions described
above, as well as:
Knowledge of the international dimensions of their subject matter and a range of
Pedagogical skills to teach their students to analyze primary sources from around the
world, appreciate multiple points of view, and recognize stereotyping.
A commitment to assisting students to become responsible citizens both of the world
and of their own communities.
The Asia Society (www.asiasociety.org), a nonpartisan, nonprofit educational institution with
offices around the world is a global and pan-Asian organization working to strengthen
relationships and promote understanding among the people, leaders, and institutions of the
U.S. and Asia. In their discussion on why students need global competency, they note that
students today are entering into a 21st Century global environment where they need to be
prepared with the knowledge, skills and passion that will enable them to recognize the
challenges and opportunities of an interconnected world and contribute to its improvement.
In discussing what it means to be globally competent, the Asia Society (n.d.) presents “The
Global Competence Matrix,” shown in table 1, identifies various knowledge and skills that a
globally competent student can do. This matrix can be adapted and used by instructors from
all areas of study to help them with programs and curricula aimed at developing globally
The Global Competence Matrix (Asia Society, n.d.)
Developing globally competent students in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM)
The 21st century requires students to be globally competent when they graduate from college.
To help prepare STEM students for living and working in the 21st century globalized world,
STEM instructors must be able to deliver to students “solid core knowledge and skills”
related to the discipline as well as provide their students with a global education that opens
their eyes and minds to the realties of the globalized world.
There are many factors to consider when developing and delivering STEM instruction that
builds a global competency in students. Developing globally competent students in STEM
will require instructors who:
Know that students must be prepared to live and work in a globalized world.
Developing globally competent STEM students in programs around the world begins
with STEM instructors realizing that it is critical that today’s 21st century students
graduate with the knowledge, skills and attitudes needed to be able to work and
compete in a global society.
Understand that they must be globally competent. STEM Instructors who wish to
develop and deliver a global education to their students must themselves strive to
become globally competent. At a minimum, globally competent STEM instructors
must know and understand that around the world there exists a variety of customs,
cultures, languages, currencies, wages, population densities, transportation systems,
religions, food, values, holiday structures, political systems, climates, communication
systems, international standards (e.g., the metric system, International Standards
Organization –ISO, etc.), educational systems, curriculums, and multinational
companies. Furthermore, globally competent instructors will have learned a second
language and will have traveled abroad to experience other cultures.
Know what it means for students to be globally competent. STEM instructors must
learn what it means for students to be globally competent and strive to develop these
characteristics in the context of STEM. At a minimum, instructors should develop
their teaching and learning experiences so that they provide students with “world
perspectives” of the topic or subject being covered and strive to develop lessons that
promote the student’s curiosity to learn more about the subject in a global context. In
addition, STEM instructors should provide students with “career awareness” on the
types of STEM employment opportunities around the world.
Are able to infuse global perspectives into STEM learning experiences: Many global
problems (e.g., clean water) and issues exist in the context of STEM and often these
problems or issues are resolved by STEM professionals. STEM instructors should
work to build global perspectives into their teachings. Shown in table 2 are examples
of global issues, problems, concerns, and topics that may be addressed in STEM
Examples of global issues, problems, concerns, and topics that may be addressed in STEM
Are able to effectively develop and deliver global STEM learning experiences.
Developing and delivering global learning experiences and activities in STEM should
be based on contemporary pedagogical practices that help meet the needs of the 21st
century learner. An excellent instructional strategy to consider using in STEM
teaching is problem-based learning (PBL). Problem-based learning is a strategy that
presents students with realistic, authentic problematic scenarios that embody the
major concepts that are often presented in a unit of study. PBL promotes critical
thinking, understanding, and in-depth problem solving by requiring students to
address “real-world” global problems (Barell, 2010). For example, teams of students
may be given a problem-based learning assignment that asks them to design a “one
person” emergency shelter that can be quickly entered during an earthquake and is
appropriate for use in an office setting.
When instructors begin to infuse global perspectives into their curricula, the Global
Education Guidelines: A Handbook for Educators to Understand and Implement
Global Education (Cabezudo et al., 2008) provide them with helpful suggestions to
consider. For example, these guidelines promote using cooperative and problembased
learning strategies, developing critical thinking skills, and using an
interdisciplinary approach to teaching about global issues. Furthermore, when
teaching about global issues, they remind instructors to approach the issue in a “time
dimension.” A time dimension not only explores the problem or issues as it currently
is, but looks at its past, and explores its possibilities for the future.
Are able to effectively internationalize their STEM programs. STEM programs that
are internationalized use curricula that provide students with global perspectives to
the content or topic being studied. For example, internationalized activities may
require students to set-up international partnerships where they work with foreign
partners to solve a problem, or require students to seek references and resources
outside their home country. An internationalized STEM program will feature
international speakers to give guest lectures, will have an “international classroom
atmosphere,” for example, showcasing products and processes from around the world,
and promote the importance of learning about other cultures.
Tomorrow’s college and university graduates must be prepared to live, work, and compete in
a globalized world. All instructors, especially those in STEM must take the challenge of
building programs and curricula that offer students opportunities to become globally
competent citizens who can survive, function, and contribute to the global needs of the 21st
century. To meet this challenge, instructors must learn about what it means to be globally
competent and work to develop global competency into their curricula and programs.
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