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Study Abroad Programs Integrated into Curriculum

Faculty and administrators in Purdue's Weldon School of Biomedical Engineering have forged partnerships with universities in Europe and Asia to transform the study abroad experience for biomedical engineering students. Students who choose one of these unique programs gain an invaluable cultural experience without interrupting their plan of study.

At Purdue, students have many opportunities, and even scholarships, for studying abroad. Often, however, the overseas adventure doesn’t directly contribute to an engineering degree. Travel abroad might mean foregoing a valuable summer internship stateside, or even delaying graduation.

Fortunately, this is not the case for students in the Weldon School. Thanks to these partnerships with universities abroad, coursework equivalencies are established, so courses taken abroad are applicable to the biomedical engineering curriculum. Students can now experience an overseas immersion that is an integral component of the biomedical engineering bachelor’s degree.

Academic experiences overseas are increasingly important for engineering students. According to 2013-14 data from the Institute of International Education, American students pursuing STEM degrees account for nearly a quarter (22.5 percent) of U.S. students overseas, outnumbering students in every other field of study.

Adapting to Academic Culture

Among Weldon’s European partners is the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, also known as ETH Zurich. By many rankings, ETH Zurich is one of Europe’s most prestigious engineering schools. (Albert Einstein is a notable alum.) Junior-level bioengineering students may take required and elective courses. Many lectures are in German; some are in English.

Study and work abroad

The National University of Ireland at Galway (NUIG) is renowned in the areas of biomechanics and biomedical engineering. Intended for Weldon students in their senior year, the NUIG program offers technical electives, life science electives and general education courses. Students who study at NUIG will complete their senior design project there.

Purdue-NUIG students also may be invited to work at the Fort Wayne Metals manufacturing firm in Galway — a chance to obtain engineering experience, establish a career network in the region and gain familiarity with UK employment culture.

Finding a broader comfort zone

One of the Weldon School’s newest partnerships is with Shanghai Jiao Tong University. The U.S. News & World Report ranks SJTU as the #11 Best Global University in engineering.

“Study in China is for students who truly enjoy a challenge, who aren’t afraid of getting outside their comfort zone,” says Corey Linkel, associate director of undergraduate programs at the Weldon School.

Nan Kong, associate professor of bioengineering at the Weldon School, adds, “Shanghai is one of the most exciting places in the world.” Kong, who is faculty advisor for the SJTU study abroad program, has been instrumental in establishing the Weldon-SJTU partnership.

Junior-level BME students spend the first part of their spring semester immersed in Chinese culture, arriving in Shanghai in time for the Chinese New Year festivities. Students then spend an intensive eight to 10 weeks studying in technical elective courses applicable to their bioengineering major. SJTU professors teach in English; textbooks also are in English.

Advancing professionally in China

After studies conclude in late June, Weldon students have a rare opportunity: they can choose to remain in Shanghai through August — doing a biomedical or healthcare internship, or participating in biomedical research.

Students interested in biomedical research have opportunities to join projects headed by faculty researchers, or they can intern at one of Shanghai’s top-notch hospitals affiliated with the SJTU medical school.

For pre-med students, Kong says, “It is a great opportunity to get clinical experience in a drastically different setting. Students can compare different healthcare settings, systems and delivery methods.”

For students interested in medical device development and startups, the study abroad in China offers extraordinary entrepreneurial experience. Students will establish lasting contacts in China’s biomedical field, which is a primary market for medical devices.

“We want to give students the best experience. We want them to know they are not missing out on anything,” Kong says. “They can study in China and still advance academically.”