CORVALLIS - Thirty years ago it was enough just to get a college degree, and you were usually headed for a good-paying, interesting career .

These days, it often takes a graduate degree to stand out from the crowd. But in the future one of the best tickets to both personal and career success, educators say, may be an international degree.

"In an international economy there's no substitute for experiencing other cultures," said Laura Hampton, director of the Global Graduates program at Oregon State University. "It can give a person knowledge, personal maturity and a real understanding of economic, cultural and business issues of other countries that they just won't grasp in any other way."

"International education opens doors of opportunity," she said.

OSU, which has historically had strong international education and research components, has moved even more aggressively into this area in recent years.

More than 160 students now participate in the Global Graduates program which provides an in-depth international internship experience. There's been about a 30 percent increase each year in student participation since this initiative began more than three years ago, and those students have received $400,000 from a federal grant in support of their activities.

And participants in OSU's innovative International Degree will leave the university with two distinct degrees - one in their regular field of study and another in international studies in the same field, reflecting a level of research, study abroad and foreign language fluency that will often make them highly sought in a competitive job market.

One OSU student who will graduate this month with both an International Degree, a Global Graduate internship and participation in the OSU Honors College is Jennifer Engels of Aurora, Ore. She has a degree in geology mixed with international studies, and during her OSU career spent six months in Vietnam.

"International studies has been great," Engels said. "It's a cool program, because you can complete it within the context of your major."

Engels gained some unusual perspectives as a geology student working in Vietnam and visiting most of the country, from the Mekong Delta to Hanoi and the China border. She learned about the challenges facing scientists in a developing country, took language classes, did field work in geology and experienced a range of reactions to being an American in Vietnam as she moved from south to north in the formerly war-torn nation.

"The country was spectacular and the people were wonderful, but I was incredibly exhausted by the end of the trip," Engels said.

Another graduating OSU student with international credentials is Manuel Michel, who has majored in agricultural business management and international studies.

As part of his senior thesis, which is an integral part of the international degree, he examined the effect of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) on apple producers in both the United States and Mexico - an agreement that had promised to open doors to new market opportunities in Mexico. His economic and marketing analysis was of such high quality that it was awarded first prize in his division at the national conference on Minorities in Agriculture, Natural Resources and Related Sciences.

"Manuel has talked about working in his professional field for a while and then maybe going to law school," Hampton said. "Whatever he pursues, he's going to be such a quality individual and an excellent ambassador for our university."

More than 75 OSU students, most of them Oregon residents, are now pursuing international degrees. Their grade point averages are generally quite high.

Last fall four students studied in Russia , lived with host families and learned first-hand of the rapid political and economic changes taking place in that country. An OSU anthropology student has studied ethnic minorities in China. And other students have been involved in projects ranging from environmental research in France to canoeing through the jungles of Ecuador.

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Laura Hampton, 541-737-6470