NKU and French partner awarded European Union funding for STEM exchange scholarships

Katie Sawvell, a junior majoring in Biological Science, spent the fall semester studying in France at UR1.

HIGHLAND HEIGHTS, Ky. — Northern Kentucky University and its partner institution in France, Université de Rennes 1 (UR1), have received funding from the European Union for exchange student scholarships.

UR1 received the Erasmus+ International Credit Mobility to provide opportunities for staff and students to study, teach and train in countries outside Europe.

The established exchange program with NKU was highlighted in UR1’s proposal. NKU’s STEM International Research and Scholarly Exchange Program (STEM-IRSEP) has sent STEM majors abroad to UR1 and the Institut Universitaire de Technologie de Lannion, which is part of UR1.

“Our French partners selected us due to our five-year collaboration in the exchange of STEM students to conduct research internships or attend classes,” said Dr. Isabelle Lagadic, associate professor of chemistry and STEM-IRSEP coordinator. “The EU funding is in addition to the grant we received last year from the French Embassy to increase the number of STEM students who study abroad in France. We now have more pathways to give our students this amazing opportunity.”

The EU funds will be distributed over two years, from June 2018- July 2020. NKU has received three scholarships for two-month internships and one scholarship for a semester of study. Each student receives about $970 per month as stipend and about $936 for travel.

Katie Sawvell, an NKU student interning in France this summer, was the first to take advantage of the new funding and extended her internship into a semester abroad at UR1.

Sawvell, a junior majoring in biological science, took classes in biochemistry, immunology and virology, philosophy and French. She also continued to work on a research project she started with her internship at the Institute of Genetics & Development at UR1. Sawvell says the language barrier was at first difficult, but she quickly learned to adapt.

“This experience has allowed me to discover new ways of learning, improve my critical thinking skills and reignite the curiosity and passion that is so often worn down by years of vigorous coursework. With this international research experience, I am not only more prepared for future academic endeavors, but also more confident in my ability to establish a career in a STEM field,” said Sawvell. “As an individual, the impact goes far beyond anything I could have learned in the classroom or laboratory. Faced with new trials each day, I evolved to stop fearing failure and, rather than dwell on my mistakes, to appreciate them as an opportunity to learn.”

NKU’s STEM-IRSEP program evolved last year with the grant from the French Embassy. When the French institution began to offer more classes in English, Dr. Lagadic realized her STEM students could extend their summer internships into semesters abroad without delaying graduation. She says gaining international experience give these students an edge on the competition.

“Most STEM graduates in the top tier all have very similar experiences and resumes. Studying abroad helps our graduates stand out from the pack. It demonstrates that they can work independently out of their comfort zone,” said Dr. Lagadic. “That is also of value to large international corporations looking for STEM employees. These graduates have had exposure to STEM research outside of the U.S. and can hit the ground running coordinating with their counterparts in different countries.”

The exchange partnership continues to grow with the support from the French Embassy and the EU. NKU’s STEM-IRSEP has welcomed 52 international students from partner universities, 25 of those from UR1. Many of these students will in return host the NKU STEM majors spending a semester in France.

Dr. Lagadic is currently interviewing students for the EU summer research scholarship and plans to announce the recipient in January. For those interested in STEM-IRSEP, contact Dr. Lagadic at [email protected].

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