For four graduate students from Thailand, the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh’s midyear commencement on Saturday, Dec. 16, marked the culmination of a yearlong STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) immersion experience that earned them master’s degrees in education.
Eric Brunsell, professor in the College of Education and Human Services, played a fundamental role in working with the Thailand Institute for Promotion of Teaching and Science and Technology to bring Chanon Kampiwtha (biology) Anurak Khophadung (computer science) Anupap Puangsomchit (chemistry) and Patiphat Tittha (mathematics) to UW Oshkosh.
He also served as the primary liaison while the graduate students were on campus.
“I learned a lot about Thailand and the education system in Thailand from the students. I really appreciate how our campus community, specifically the Office of International Education, welcomed these students and made them feel part of UW Oshkosh and the city of Oshkosh. I hope to be able to bring students from UW Oshkosh to Thailand in the future,” Brunsell said.
Home away from home
Upon arrival in January 2017, the students eagerly dove in and explored the area. Most of what they knew about the U.S. they had learned by watching movies and the news in Thailand. Breaks between semesters at UWO provided the opportunity to travel in and beyond Oshkosh.
“I was impressed about how large the U.S. country is. Each state that I visited was very different and unique in landscape and personality. I am pleased to report that I have met some of the friendliest people in Oshkosh,” Khophadung said.
Coming from the large city of Bankok, Puangomchit found Oshkosh to be quiet, peaceful and the perfect home away from home.
“You have a culture of greeting people with a handshake or a hug, and it warms my heart. This kindness to others makes the world a better place to live,” Puangsomchit said.
Throughout the experience, the graduate students were tasked to make note of the differences in the educational systems and find concrete examples they could take back to their classrooms.
Puangsomchit attended science and mathematics workshops and noted there were many times the educators would share their own experiences, problems and solutions in a constant effort to better the educational system. When attending workshops, teachers in Thailand listen to the research presented but don’t openly debate the topic. Puangsomchit noted similar differences between students.
“Students in Thailand are used to lecture-based teaching with the main goal of getting a good score on the test. They often will get additional tutoring just to get the best score on the material. The students in the U.S. have more responsibility than our students. They not only need to pay attention in class, but they also participate in additional activities, such as sports or clubs. One lesson that I will take with me from the U.S. is to activate the content to engage the students,” Puangsomchit said.
Kampiwtha’s research was focused on the value U.S. teachers place on STEM skills and phenomenon-based learning. His research revealed a number of ways that teachers activate classroom environments and the number of resources that are available to U.S. teachers.
“The U.S. is a country of learning. Everywhere you turn, there are places that teachers can take their classes, such as science museums and national parks. When teachers connect students to these resources, they can show the students that the topics from their books are real,” Kampiwtha said.
Khophadung’s research investigated the motivations of students interested in computer science and discovering new ways to promote computer science to the K-12 STEM education base.
“The teachers I observed in the classroom really inspired me. I learned classroom management and student engagement techniques that I can apply to my future classroom,” Khophadung said.
The four graduates will soon return to Thailand to begin work as middle and high school teachers.
“I am grateful for my time here at UW Oshkosh. I am really excited to share my stories and experiences with my friends, family and colleagues. I know the lessons I learned here will be valuable for my future classroom,” Pungsomchit said.