MDE Students Take Part in Short Term Study Abroad Trip to Australia

Author: TJ Wharry
Event Date: April 12, 2017
MDE Study Abroad Australia
MDE Study Abroad students and faculty hold up a Purdue flag
MDE students and faculty recently spent a week in the land down under as part of the first short term study abroad trip in School history. The trip, led by Dr. Mary Pilotte with the help of Dr. Robin Adams and former ENE Head Dr. David Radcliffe, now of Swinburne University of Technology, was part of IDE 49500: Engineering Field Investigations in a Multidisciplinary & Global Context. The course goal was simple: provide students an authentic field experience common to engineering practice, where elements of cultural diversity weighed into the complexity of identifying and developing a technical solution.
While in Australia, the MDE juniors and seniors were given an open ended design problem – provide solutions for Indonesian families struggling with the frequent and repeat destruction of flooding in their villages The students were placed in an unfamiliar cultural setting to add a degree of difficulty to their task, and to simulate the challenges engineers face in real life work situations.

“Framing every detail of this study abroad trip around a how engineers experience fieldwork helped us as faculty focus in on the critical enduring understandings we wanted our MDE students to take away from the setting,” said Dr. Pilotte.  “With carefully intertwined cultural, technical, and professional learning contexts, it became more than just a week away from Purdue visiting a great location – it evolved into an opportunity for students to test preparedness for their engineering careers awaiting them.”

But it wasn’t strictly business for the students. Students enjoyed evenings of their spring break,  touring museums, meeting koala bears, trying out the food of Australia’s diverse immigrant populations and were even given an impromptu lecture on indigenous seed pods by a local passerby. A trip to the famous Sydney Opera House was also a major highlight for many of the students.

An important aspect of the trip was to immerse the students in a foreign culture, to identify similarities and differences between the culture and their own, and to reflect upon themselves in order to learn valuable lessons within the engineering experience. The students were given a questionnaire that made them share how they preferred to communicate in situations of stress and fatigue, and one of the key grading parameters was that they show evidence of awareness of the social and global impact of the outcomes of their investigation.

“One of the things I noticed a lot was the aspect of community in Australia” said student Zach Beyer, a MDE student concentrating in acoustical engineering. “It seemed like they focused more on the community as a whole versus the American individualistic kind of mentality… I felt like that was very different.”

Dr. Pilotte said that semester long study abroad trips are common in other academic units and more recently in MDE, however this was the first short term trip in MDE history. “We are happy we had the opportunity to innovate something new in the space of study abroad experiences for MDE.  From here, it is up to student word of mouth to see if the program gains traction to repeat again next year.”