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At Shanghai Jiao Tong University, Purdue Engineering's 2016 spring cohort pose with SJTU staff.

Educating worldly engineers with academic partnerships The Office of Global Engineering Programs will provide transformative learning opportunities in East Asia.

By William Meiners

Educating worldly engineers with academic partnerships

Author: William Meiners
Subtitle: The Office of Global Engineering Programs will provide transformative learning opportunities in East Asia.
Magazine Section: Engagement
Article Type: Feature
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It's simply the way of the world. Today's engineering students are sure to become part of the global economy. As such, they will need to effectively navigate a worldwide marketplace. A recent $50,000 grant to Purdue's Office of Global Engineering Programs provides students with crucial educational experiences in East Asia that could help ease the path to leadership positions where they will respond to global technological, economic and societal challenges.

USA Study Abroad, a branch of the Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs at the U.S. State Department, selected Purdue as one of 18 colleges and universities for the award from more than 160 applicants.

Three Purdue Engineering students pose with their new buddy (right) from Shanghai Jiao Tong University.

Transformations abroad

Wei Qiu, the GEP East Asia programs manager, worked with eight experts from across campus on the proposal, titled "Diversifying and Scaling Purdue Engineering Study Abroad in East Asia." (See sidebar below.) Qiu says that Purdue engineering students returning from study abroad terms in Shanghai and Hong Kong consistently described their experiences as simply "too good to be true." The many reasons for this include the affordability of living five to six months in a Chinese city, extensive immersion into Chinese culture, and the opportunity to take engineering courses, visit industrial sites such as American Axle and Caterpillar, and network on a worldwide scale.

Such experiences are often transformative. "Cultural exposure will definitely help Boilermakers become better engineers," Qiu says. "Once they start walking around Shanghai or Hong Kong, our students will immediately appreciate why engineering studies are not just about formulas, but more importantly, about designs, solutions, and hopes for real people to live better lives. Cultural sensitivity will inspire our students with better engineering solutions."

They also position themselves better for job opportunities. "Learning how to travel and understanding cultural issues will make students more competitive for significant, management-level positions," says James Jones, associate head of mechanical engineering. "Having study abroad experiences in college is a tremendous leg up."

Unfortunately, the packed engineering curriculums nationwide often leave little time for such programs. Jones says those challenges explain national numbers showing as few as 5 percent of engineering students venture overseas to study.

"Our students get a $3,000 travel grant," Jones says. "So they could pay tuition at Purdue and go to places like China at little or no extra cost. Also, we plan on integrating these programs into the curriculum so they don't add time to earning the degree."

Purdue Engineering students at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.

Expanding opportunities

Study abroad has historically been linked to programs for the elite. But because the proposal writers are also diversity advocates, the program opens up travel experiences to all students. Jones says the ROTC students, who might end up in military service in East Asia and other parts of the world, can reap unique benefits from spending time abroad.

Women engineering students can also capitalize on the opportunity. "Women currently have a low participation rate in East Asian study abroad programs relative to their presence in the College of Engineering," says Beth Holloway, assistant dean of engineering for Undergraduate Education and Director of the Women in Engineering Program. Holloway, who plans on recruiting incoming and first-year engineering students, says, "The opportunity to be immersed in a country in East Asia will assist with the development of global-minded engineers."

Support from Global Engineering staff and other partners on campus, including a one credit pre-departure course, will help attract students. With strong ties already in China, the architects of the program hope to make inroads into places like South Korea and Japan, which has a rich robotics program. Partnerships with universities in Japan, the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, and Shanghai Jiao Tong University in China will allow for a widening range of technical and culture experiences.

Arvind Raman, associate dean for GEP and Robert V. Adams Professor in Mechanical Engineering, believes this program dovetails nicely into the college strategic plan goal to graduate engineers that are effective in a global context. "This grant will help scale this vision for the East Asia Pacific region, which is the largest export market for U.S. products after North America," he says.

The proposal collaborators also zeroed in on key points that resonated with the funding decision makers. "The Purdue team for this grant is diverse and specifically involves traditionally underrepresented disciplines and programs," Raman says. "That and a strong program and assessment methodology were key to winning this highly competitive grant."

At Shanghai Jiao Tong University, Purdue Engineering students participate in a cooking workshop as part of the Chinese culture class.


Grant-winning team
College-wide collaboration helped ensure a winning proposal for the Global Engineering Programs. Along with East Asia Programs Manager Wei Qiu, eight colleagues joined the effort. They include Andrew Brightman, assistant head in the Weldon School of Biomedical Engineering; Patrick Brunese, senior academic administrator in Industrial Engineering; Darryl Dickerson, associate director of the Minority Engineering Program; Jeffrey Gray, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering; Beth Holloway, director of the Women in Engineering Program; Wei Hong, director of the Chinese Language Program and the Confucius Institute; James Jones, associate head in Mechanical Engineering; and Lt. Col. James Scrogin, branch commander for Army ROTC.