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Educational, Cultural Opportunities Abound Throughout World for Student, Faculty

June 7, 2013

Check the origin of many products on retail shelves and you will observe that practically any kind of business is increasingly done on a global scale. What’s less obvious is the extent to which engineering has become a global pursuit, even for engineers who never set foot outside the United States.

          Japanese Visit
  Learning Japanese Culture: Students have fun learning about ensemble taiko drumming during a two-week trip in 2012 to Japan's Ishikawa Prefectural University.

That’s the reality behind Rose-Hulman’s growing international connections. Students and professors, through a variety of innovative programs, are gaining a global perspective by interacting with peers in faraway places, and in many cases spending time studying in distant lands.

“As engineers, our customers, suppliers, and collaborators will almost always be global in nature,” says Interim Dean of Faculty Richard Stamper, PhD. “That became apparent to me when I worked at General Electric as a member of various engineering teams. We designed products that were sold around the world, made up of parts purchased from around the world, and manufactured in a variety of places.”

Cary Laxer, PhD, head of the Department of Computer Science and Software Engineering, adds, “Everyone I talk to in industry says students need to know how to work in the global environment and how to interact with their peers from another culture.”

One way that Rose-Hulman is providing global perspectives is through dual-degree masters-level academic programs with Germany’s Ulm University and South Korea’s Seoul National University of Science and Technology (SeoulTech). These programs involve study at Rose-Hulman and leading international institutions. However, these are far more than study-abroad or student-exchange opportunities, advises William Schindel, a 1969 mathematics alumnus and chair of the Board of Trustees’ Academic Affairs Committee. “The degree is dual, not just in the sense of studying at two schools, but two degrees are granted—a degree from each school,” he says.

The collaboration with Ulm focuses on the emerging field of systems engineering. Since it is a new field being approached in different ways, Schindel believes that’s a great reason to study systems engineering in more than one place. “It’s important to get exposure to different ways of thinking,” he says.

Korean MEMS Students          
Great Summer Experiences: Professor Michael McInerney (left) teaches students from three Korean universities about micro-sized machines during a summer campus workshop. (Photo by Shawn Spence)

The partnership with Seoul Tech is similar, but focuses on optical engineering. It includes studies at both institutions, along with an internship at a Korean company.

A different kind of global experience comes through design collaborative projects involving Rose-Hulman computer science students and counterparts at Sweden’s Uppsala University and Turkey’s Bilkent University. In many ways, the projects provide a taste of the situations graduates will likely experience at an international company, with interconnected global operations.

The program started nearly a decade ago when an Uppsala professor sought international perspectives for real-world projects based in Sweden. “At the end of the semester, we took our students to Sweden to meet their counterparts, and together presented the project results to the client,” says Laxer. The client was delighted with the teams’ work and has continued to develop interesting technology-based projects.

These collaborative projects have been tremendous successes, and became part of a Computing in a Global Society course, taught annually by Laxer. The class travels overseas at the beginning of the quarter to meet peers and get a taste for the country’s culture. Regular Skype calls keep project teams in touch. Several Rose-Hulman students have returned to Sweden for a client presentation and a full-day educational symposium, including sessions by Helena Bernald, an international cross-cultural communications specialist.

"Tomorrow's engineers need to know how their creations will affect other cultures and lifestyles," states Bernald, who came to Rose-Hulman in 2012 as a guest speaker. “The world is getting smaller and flatter all the time," she says.

The emphasis on learning international perspectives is far from new on campus. Rose-Hulman’s academic partnership with Japan’s Kanazawa Institute of Technology celebrated its 20th anniversary last fall.

“Our goal is to develop scientists and engineers who can work in Japan, or work with engineers in Japan,” says Scott Clark, PhD, professor of anthropology. “During the summer our students are in Japan. They have an intensive Japanese language program, take a cultural course, and get involved in cultural activities. The program gives them skills and abilities to negotiate and overcome differences,” remarks Clark.

Additional student exchanges involve Japan’s University of Aizu. Seven computer science students from Aizu spent three weeks studying at Rose-Hulman earlier this spring. It was the largest contingent in an exchange program that began in 2006.

“As a leading university for technology, Rose-Hulman is highly sought after as a destination for our students seeking international experiences to enhance their careers,” says Tatsuki Kawaguchi, head of Aizu’s international programs. The college has exchange programs with nearly 60 institutions in 17 countries. “Rose-Hulman is at the top of the list. Our students always come back from Rose-Hulman with a vast knowledge and several friendships with faculty and students,” he stated during a recent campus visit.

          Uppsala Visit
  Swedish Sights: Computer science students visited the anatomical theatre at the University of Uppsala museum—one of several cultural adventures during a trip to Sweden. (Photo by Cary Laxer)

Rose-Hulman students have also benefitted from the Aizu exchange program, according to Julia Williams, PhD, English professor and executive director of the Office of Institutional Research, Planning and Assessment. “[The recent visiting Aizu students] helped our students improve their Japanese language skills and better understand Japanese culture,” she says, adding that a number of Rose-Hulman students have parlayed their Aizu experiences into jobs with global businesses.

International educational outreach has also allowed approximately 20 students from South Korean universities to learn about micro-sized machines and experience American culture during the past three summers at Rose-Hulman. "Our program has been judged the best summer international experience for South Korean university students during the past two years," states Physics and Optical Engineering Professor Michael McInerney, Ph.D., who coordinates the program. "It has been a delightful program for both institutions and may be expanded to serve students from other foreign countries in the future," he says.

Stamper, a 1985 mechanical engineering alumnus, emphasizes that the benefits of a global focus extend beyond such practical matters. “Global experiences can lead to a sense of self understanding and awareness that may be difficult to achieve otherwise,” he says. “It can lead people to examine and consider some of their basic assumptions about themselves and others—assumptions that they may have taken for granted without much reflection.”