'Gender in the World' study abroad trip enlightening for engineering students

Eighteen College of Engineering students made a seven-day spring break study abroad trip to Belgium and Paris designed to help them better understand gender dynamics in the world.

Eighteen engineering students spent seven days in France and Belgium as part of a Women in Engineering Program study abroad trip.

On March 12, Purdue College of Engineering alumni Diana Saieh (BSIE ’04), Ana Paula Tenorio (BSIE ’18), Nubia Tomita (BSIE ’23) and Gail Hamilton (BSMetE ’81) met for dinner at Le Verre Moutarde in Paris. The women met to share their experiences in building an international career with Women in Engineering (WiE) study abroad students exploring “Gender in the World.” They were joined by Purdue alumni Frederic Boudy, Cristina Escobar and Anthony Mahoungou to talk about their time at Purdue and discuss tips for success after college.

Their guests for the evening were 18 College of Engineering students and one pharmacy student on a seven-day spring break study abroad trip in Belgium and Paris. WiE associate director Suzanne Zurn-Birkhimer and WiE assistant director Brianne Wrede led the undergraduate students through the experience designed to help them better understand gender dynamics in the world.

The hours spent with the Purdue alumni left an indelible impression on the traveling women engineering students.

“Through conversations with Cristina, I learned that professional engineering opportunities are diverse and flexible. I have lived in Indiana my entire life, so speaking with Cristina, who has lived in the United States, Peru, France, and Mexico, was inspiring and motivating,” said Abby Haluska, a senior computer engineering major. “Additionally, Cristina spent several years after college living in Chicago, which is where I plan to move after graduation. Hearing how that experience leveraged an international career inspired me to be more open to engineering abroad.”

Dinner was just one highlight of a trip for exploring and immersing in the culture of other countries, especially the culture of women and engineering. Some Parisian highlights included the “Women of Paris” and “Women in the Louvre” tours and visiting the Eiffel Tower and the Paris Catacombs as examples of engineering feats.

Students in Belgium

“Having the tour guide explain the background of the women being painted about and which scenes from their life men chose to portray was very impactful because it showed the difference between how women are seen and who they actually are,” first-year engineering student Claire Lauerman said.

Haluska said the “The Women of Paris” tour stood out because it “highlighted significant contributions that women have made throughout history.”

“Although I have traveled before, this was my first time experiencing a tour solely focused on women and their historical impact,” she said. “It felt reassuring to know that tours like this exist.”

In Bruges, Belgium, the students experienced the De Halve Maan, a brewery that has seen activity for over five centuries and just recently completed a more than 2-mile beer pipeline connecting the brewery with a new bottling plant. This feat of engineering allowed De Halve Maan to continue brewing at its current location and expand, sustainably, to address growth of their operations while reducing its ecological footprint.

“I learned so much about other cultures and how they differed from my own. It made me realize I want to keep exploring the world, meeting new people, and immersing in other cultures,” said first-year engineering student Sophia Alvarez. “It was really inspiring to meet so many different people, and it made me realize how many other perspectives there are out there.”

Each experience gave the students an opportunity to understand the impact of gender in a broader worldview.

“I grew academically and professionally during the trip,” said Elke Roeser, a first-year engineering student. “This experience has reminded me to be aware of my unconscious bias. It was one of the best experiences of my life.”