Preparing globally competent students in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM)

Edward M. Reeve
Ph.D., Professor
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


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

(, 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.,

Thai culture).

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

institution” (p.7).

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

other countries.


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).


Global Competency


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

competent student:

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

global issues.

 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 (, 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

competent students.


Table 1

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



Table 2

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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