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With STEM designation, Towson international students can work longer in US

International students in Towson University’s Master of Science in marketing intelligence program wanted a change.

When they graduated, the students wanted to be able to hone their skills in the United States before they returned to their home country.

“Obviously, when you are coming from a country, you know more about the process than those already in the country,” said Philippe Duverger, an assistant professor of marketing at the university.

Last week, Towson announced that the Department of Homeland Security had defined the master’s program as a science, technology, engineering and math program.

That means graduates of the program with F-1 visas can remain in the country for optional practical training an additional 24 months — a total of 36 months after graduation.

When the program’s first cohort graduates this spring, international students will account for five of the 10 members.

Many students come into the country knowing that they’ll be able to stay for optional practical training, said Michelle Massey, assistant director of the Office of International Education Services at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

“It’s extremely valuable. It’s extremely important to students,” Massey said.

Duverger said that even those students who want to work in their home countries find experience working in the U.S. valuable.

Other students can take advantage of the three-year time period to look for a permanent job in the country.

The Department of Homeland Security places specific requirements on students to participate in the optional practical training.

Students must have a degree in a STEM field as defined by the department, be given formal training and work a minimum of 20 hours per week.

“The idea is that the student can get hands-on experience,” Massey said. “It also depends on the student’s goals.”

At UMBC, she estimates that about 75 percent of eligible international students take advantage of STEM optional practical training.

But there’s a catch in the Maryland region. While there are many STEM opportunities, a lot of them involve government contracts for which the students need security clearance. Most international students will never receive the required clearance, Massey said.

At Towson, STEM designation for the marketing analytics program makes the students eligible for optional practical training.

The marketing program has access to two databases, including a 230 million member database donated by CEGA Consulting. The database allows students to work with the type of data they’d work with as employed marketers.

Because more than half of the courses in the program require some computer work, Duverger thought the program would easily fit STEM designation requirements. Components of today’s marketing environment include digital strategies and data mining.

“It was easy because there’s not much argumentation to whether it qualifies,” he said. “We thought it was more of a STEM program than not.”

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