Magazine article International Educator

Engineering the World

Magazine article International Educator

Engineering the World

Article excerpt

The importance of preparing future engineers to have an international mindset is crucial to their profession as it moves toward a more interculturally collaborative education on a global scale.

UNTIL RECENTLY, the humanities and social science fields were the ones primarily focused on encouraging students to participate in education abroad and international exchange programs. However, the science fields, such as engineering, are beginning to understand the importance of connecting students' global experiences with traditional curriculums as the world continues to flatten and the global marketplace relies more heavily on the brain and economic power of people from countries everywhere.

Why Internationalize Engineering Education?

In today's shifting and growing global economy, it's hard to image that current engineering graduates, regardless of their specialty, will not be interacting regularly with colleagues and customers from all over the world. It, therefore, becomes vital, according to Jan Helge Bohn, associate professor of mechanical engineering at Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, to equip students with the skills to enable them to be effective in careers in the international arena. "International experiences give engineering students a foundation for life-long learning, opens their eyes to what lies beyond meir current horizons, and prepares them to work, learn, and interact in a global engineering economy!' he observed.

Because engineering graduates are very likely to work on international teams performing research and development, design, manufacturing, etc., they need exposure to other cultures and languages during their undergraduate career to help them better understand cultural differences. "As engineers they may be going abroad on short business trips, be based in the US. but be working virtually with people in other countries, or even be given a long-term overseas assignment. By studying, interning, or working abroad and studying a second language during their educational years, students learn how engineering education and engineering projects are performed overseas and will become more attuned to what will be confronting them after graduation," said John Grandin, executive director of the German International Engineering Program and professor of German at the University of Rhode Island (URI), Kingston

Raymond Wright, interim dean and professor of civil engineering at me College of Engineering at URI observes that many students don't go abroad or take language courses and are comfortable working domestically after graduation and being hired. "However, almost a quarter of URI's undergraduate population takes advantage of international educational opportunities. That is a good indicator that engineering students are recognizing the value of international internships and study abroad academic experiences to companies with overseas offices," he said.

Enabling future engineers to be more competitive in their chosen career is one of the prime reasons that engineering education has to be more internationalized, agreed Larry Shuman, professor of industrial engineering and senior associate dean at the University of Pittsburgh. "Trends indicate that a large chunk of engineering work is increasingly being performed overseas where it costs less to get the same quality. American engineering graduates will have to compete in this highly globalized job market where their future role will likely be as system integrators and project managers working with a diverse team of people. International experiences and exposure to other languages will provide them with the skills and tools to work across cultures, whether face-to-face or in a virtual team over the Internet," Shuman explained.

Becoming familiar with and understanding another culture's approach to engineering design is one of the vital components of an international educational experience. "That is because it is the application of engineering concepts that is being globalized, not the technical aspects of engineering," observed Jack R. …

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