Nebraska Engineering Fall, 2006
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Greetings from Abroad

Awestruck student at a cathedral in Rome.
Awestruck student at a cathedral in Rome.

Thanks to technology, businesses across the world are more interconnected than ever. Globalization also means that having strong technical abilities isn’t enough to succeed anymore—even in engineering.

Long a staple for liberal arts students, study abroad is becoming a critical component of engineering programs. David Allen, dean of the College of Engineering, has identified the college’s international education program as one of his priorities.

Until three years ago, the college’s program was fledgling. Now, Allen conservatively estimates that UNL has one of the 20 largest engineering study abroad programs in the country. Only five students participated in 2003. In 2005, 52 students enrolled in a summer study abroad program. In the 2006-07 school year, more than 100 engineering students will study abroad.

In exchange, engineering students from China, Brazil and France have chosen to study at UNL.

Associate Professor Kevin Houser attributes the program’s rapid growth to greater national interest in globalization. In fact, Congress declared 2006 “The Year of Study Abroad.” At the college level, Houser credits Allen for providing the start-up resources necessary to create a sustainable study abroad program.

The inspiration for the program came 11 years ago when Allen, then a faculty member at Texas A&M University, and his graduate student Jorge Soares began a cooperative research program on pavement mechanics. Soares later joined the faculty of the Universidad Federal do Ceará in Fortaleza, Brazil. Allen and Soares began encouraging students and faculty from UFC to join Allen on American study abroad programs. The unofficial partnership was the foundation of a program supported by the Fund for Improvement of Postsecondary Education.

As Seen Through the Eyes of the Students
Fishing for piranhas in the Amazon
Fishing for piranhas in the Amazon


Monkeying around in Brazil
Monkeying around in Brazil

An authentic Brazilian feast
An authentic Brazilian feast

Sailing off the coast of Brazil
Sailing off the coast of Brazil

Exploring a historic site in France
Exploring a historic site in France

Meghan DeHarty, Daniel Hilgendorf, Steven Gollehon and Scott Lindgren sketch buildings in the Piazza Del Campo in Siena, Italy.
Meghan DeHarty, Daniel Hilgendorf, Steven Gollehon and Scott Lindgren sketch buildings in the Piazza Del Campo in Siena, Italy.

Students swim in Capri, Italy at the Grotta Verde.
Students swim in Capri, Italy at the Grotta Verde.

Dancing in Brazil
Dancing in Brazil

By 2003, Allen was dean of UNL’s engineering college. The exchange program he started with Soares became formalized through the U.S.-Brazil Higher Education Consortia Program. The U.S.-Brazil program is a partnership between countries that provides cross-cultural educational and training experiences for students in a variety of disciplines including engineering. Kansas State University and the Universidade Federal de Pernambuco also became partners.

The program’s growth is impressive, but success didn’t come easily.

Shortly after receiving a grant for the U.S.- Brazil program, UNL discontinued its Portuguese language program because of budget cuts. Portuguese is Brazil’s official language.

Timing also was an issue because the Brazilian school year begins in March and ends in December. The universities’ solution to both problems was sending UNL students to Brazil in January to learn Portuguese and acclimate to their new environment for eight weeks before classes officially began.

Surprisingly, said Marilena Carvalho, international programs coordinator, one of the greatest barriers was getting students interested in the program. Engineering students are accustomed to following a prescribed academic program and were hesitant to forgo summer internships or postpone graduation to study abroad for a semester, she said.

“Liberal arts students know they need to study abroad to get a world view,” Carvalho said. “Engineers don’t always understand that.”

The college has support from the Accreditation Board for Engineering & Technology, the official accreditation agency of engineering schools. The organization requires accredited U.S. engineering schools to demonstrate that graduates have “the broad education necessary to understand the impact of engineering solutions in a global and societal context.”

To generate interest before launching the semester-long program, Carvalho—who was raised in Brazil and attended college there— planned a four-week summer program to introduce students to the country.

It worked. Of the 15 students who spent summer 2004 in Brazil, five returned for a semesterlong program in spring 2005. Nine undergraduates from UFC studied at UNL in fall 2005.

Participants from the pilot program, many of whom were skeptical at first, became some of the best recruiters. UNL’s chapter of the International Association for the Exchange of Students for Technical Experience has more than 40 members. IAESTE finds local internships for students who study abroad at UNL and promotes the study abroad program to other engineering students.

One of the program’s strengths is its flexibility. Carvalho said the summer experiences are most popular because they begin shortly after the spring semester ends, allowing students to return to Nebraska for summer classes or internships. The college now offers two- to four-week summer programs in China, Italy, Brazil and France.

UNL faculty teach the summer courses, which include Basic Portuguese and Brazilian Culture, and the History of Engineering, Science & Technology. Students receive UNL academic credit for these courses, which are available exclusively through the summer study abroad programs. They learn about the engineering behind significant historic sites, complete independent projects related to their majors and spend one week sightseeing.

Semester programs are available at Xi’an Jiaotong University in China, UFC in Brazil and the University of Rouen in France. Students who study abroad for a semester take classes at internationally renowned universities and can take internships with UNL’s industry partners, which include a structural design firm.

Studying abroad can be expensive. However, Carvalho said, students may apply for scholarships and grants from the college and UNL’s Office of International Affairs. They also can use student loans to pay for study abroad courses, she said.

Getting more students to commit to semesterlong programs is a major goal for the program. Houser said to make that happen, long-term programs must dovetail with UNL curriculum.

“It’s a tough sell if a semester abroad means that a student will graduate a semester later,” Houser said.

For three years, Houser has led the Italy program, which is formally incorporated into the architectural engineering curriculum. The course AE 3770, Global Experiences in Architectural Engineering, satisfies a graduation requirement.

But perhaps the greatest selling points of international education are the intangible benefits.

“Study abroad is memorable, even life changing, in a way that on-campus courses rarely are,” Houser said. “Making personal observations of the lighting of the Pantheon is more meaningful than viewing slides in a classroom.

“As educators, we should take responsibility for more than just technical knowledge, and study abroad is also about personal growth. Many of the students that participate return as better people—not just better engineers, but better citizens of the world.”

 


Three architectural engineering students agreed to share their Italy study abroad experiences with Engineering@Nebraska: senior Andrea Wilkerson, sophomore Steve Gollehon and junior Daniel Hilgendorf.

E@N: Why did you choose your destination?
Wilkerson: I had always wanted to go to Italy since I was in sixth grade and we learned about Roman culture and Pompeii. The Italy program also was convenient because it started right after the spring semester ended and was only 2½ weeks, so I could still take summer classes and do an internship.
Gollehon: Italy has always been on the top of my list of places to travel. I think the culture, art and architecture is amazing.

E@N: Did you experience culture shock? How did you handle it?
Gollehon: I didn’t really experience culture shock. I tried to keep an open mind so I wouldn’t be too surprised by anything. The one thing that surprised me most was the driving, especially in Rome. The only way I could deal with it was by trusting the driver. There were a few times I thought I wasn’t going to get off the bus, but everything ended up fine.
Hilgendorf: Not really. I think the short time we were there, being busy and being with a group that got along so well curbed any chance of that happening.
Gollehon: I also had the impression there were going to be a lot of big companies like we have here (Wal-Mart, grocery stores, etc.). It surprised me when there were hardly any that weren’t clothing stores.

E@N: What were some of your favorite moments from the trip?
Wilkerson: Seeing the Pantheon in Rome was absolutely amazing! I felt like I had been mislead in my previous architecture history class because all the pictures I had seen of the Pantheon did not do it justice. It was double the size I imagined it to be, in the heart of Rome hidden by the surrounding buildings.
Gollehon: There are so many fun stories to share, but two of them stick out in my mind. The first was the group dinners. Each dinner would last more than two hours, so we had a good chance to get acquainted rather quickly. Trying the new foods also was fun. The other thing I remember most was meeting Italians. It was fun trying to communicate with them and discovering things we had in common.
Hilgendorf: We went to so many world-famous places that it’s hard to pick favorite moments. St. Peter’s basilica was breathtaking. I also loved our group meals together. Actually, just about every time the group hung out together was one of my favorite times because we always had fun, and we were out and about in Italy. The combination was priceless. Wilkerson: While we were waiting in line to get into Vatican City, it started pouring rain and only a few in the group were prepared for rain. Luckily some gracious Japanese tourists had umbrellas and let a few of us who weren’t prepared get under their umbrellas. It was comical because we were much taller than they were, so we were trying to bend down to fit underneath the umbrellas. They couldn’t speak English, and we didn’t know Japanese, so our only way of communicating was through laughter.

E@N: Did anything frustrate you?
Wilkerson: I never got frustrated except in Pisa and Rome because there were street vendors everywhere trying to sell junk. It made some areas really congested because the vendors were along the sides of the main tourist walking paths.
Hilgendorf: Not knowing much Italian was frustrating. It is difficult not being able to communicate.

E@N: How did studying abroad enhance your college experience? How do you expect it to impact your life in the future?
Wilkerson: I never imagined studying abroad before I came to college, and now I can’t imagine not studying abroad. I have always wanted to travel outside the United States, but I never realized how enlightening traveling was until I went to Italy. Studying abroad not only broadened my perspective on the world, but it also will broaden my perspective on everyday life.
Gollehon: My experience with study abroad was most likely the best personal and academic experience in my life thus far. It really boosted my education to the next level.
Hilgendorf: I met some great friends. It also makes you realize there is so much out there. Sometimes we get so caught up in our own world that we forget everything else. I definitely have a more open mind and a broader perspective. I realize the world is getting smaller due to technological innovations, and I want to make sure I equip myself to deal with that.
Gollehon: I think it will help me look at things within a larger perspective. It helped me realize that not everyone chooses to live the same way we do in Omaha or in the United States.

E@N: Will you study abroad again? Where would you like to go?
Wilkerson: I would love to, but I don’t know if it could ever be more amazing than the Italy trip. I would love to go to Spain and see some of Antoni Gaudi’s buildings and to Germany to see the remains of World War II.
Gollehon: If I could pick anywhere, it would be between France, China or Turkey.
Hilgendorf: I would like to spend an entire semester somewhere. I hear Australia is beautiful, and there wouldn’t be a language barrier.

Greetings from AbroadTo read journals written by a student studying in China,
visit the College of Engineering’s study abroad Web site at:
www.engineering.unl.edu/studyabroad/