Katja Kurz serves on the EPIP-NY Steering committee. She is the University Relations Coordinator at Cultural Vistas, an international exchange organization organizing professional programs to foster career exploration and leadership development. In her role, Katja focuses on increasing access to international education opportunities for STEM and traditionally underrepresented students. She has previously held research and teaching positions at Columbia University in NY and Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz, Germany. Katja has published on human rights advocacy and intercultural communication. She holds a doctorate in English from the Johannes Gutenberg University of Mainz and an M.A. from Clark University in Worcester, MA.
Katja responded to the EPIP summer challenge to share how she’s embracing leadership opportunities this summer. This is her story.
Becoming Globally Competent Leaders: My Experience from a Summer Program for African American STEM Students
Do we need international experience to become good leaders? The answer is YES, as a result of an innovative leadership project that I worked on this summer. The project, called STEM LAUNCH (“Learning and Understanding New Career Horizons”), was aimed at creating international opportunities for U.S. students at historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) for leadership development.
Global competence, however, is something that we can only achieve if we create meaningful international learning experiences abroad, be it in the form of study, research or professional assignments in another country. As it is, African American students in general and STEM majors in particular, are highly underrepresented in international exchange, currently making up less than 13% and 5% of U.S. students going abroad, respectively. Yet recent reports indicate that international experience is something that U.S. employers are increasingly looking for in graduates for domestic positions. Responding to the need to engage African American STEM students at HBCUs in international learning opportunities, I organized the STEM LAUNCH program sending young scholars from Atlanta on a professional study tour in Germany to learn first-hand about the global nature of STEM, and to explore STEM career paths. Germany, being one of the international leaders in renewable energies and sustainable resource management, provided an auspicious setting for the group to explore global innovations in STEM research and development.Arising from a joint initiative between The Halle Foundation in Atlanta, GA, and my employer Cultural Vistas, a nonprofit organization facilitating international professional exchanges, the mission of STEM LAUNCH is to prepare young African American scholars in the sciences, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) for leadership paths in their fields. Because a lot of the issues we are facing today require innovative global solutions – e.g. technical innovations to counter the depletion of natural resources – , global competence is imperative for the next generation of STEM leaders.
Over the course of two weeks, I led a group of 18 students and two professors from Spelman and Morehouse Colleges, two revered HBCUs in Atlanta, GA, on visits to host institutions in Berlin and Munich. I designed the itinerary for an interactive tour during which the next generation of African American STEM leaders would explore topics ranging from the efficient use of engineering materials for aerospace to the 3D imaging of protein markers for cancer therapy. Aside from exchanging ideas with notable industrial leaders in the field, such as Siemens, BMW, Bayer and Airbus, the group also met with representatives from government related agencies and academic institutions conducting cutting-edge STEM research.
Throughout the program, we engaged in a transnational conversation about the importance of STEM education and about the global dimension that is at the core of STEM
research. What I found striking during our visits of laboratories and research facilities was the diversity and the mobility of the workforce. Each of our hosts had a story to tell about how their international experience had impacted their personal and professional development. The institutions we visited were unanimous in their verdict that global competence is also one of their determining factors for success.
For most of the U.S. participants, it was the first experience of living abroad. Even though I had prepared them for the experience during a month-long virtual seminar leading up to the study tour, they surprised me with their resourcefulness in seizing this experience for professional growth, while readily sharing opportunities with their peers. The outcome of the program was overwhelmingly positive. Many described the experience as an eye-opener about the variety of STEM career paths and opportunities for global cooperation. The participants returned to Atlanta with the commitment of sharing their global experience with fellow students on campus as part of a post-program service learning project in the fall semester.