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Educating engineers as global problem-solvers

Vlad Likholetov, a chemical research professor, also serves as the College of Engineering’s director of international programs and initiatives.

Some days, it’s hard for an engineering major to make it out of the library. Trading a semester of classes to study abroad can seem like a pipe dream. But diversity and international connections are important in an ever-flattening world, especially in an industry so universal as engineering. Faculty and staff in the Mizzou College of Engineering recognized this paradox and have recently started actively exploring ways to internationalize the college.

Mizzou Engineering is developing its international programs for two reasons. First, it intends to attract high-quality international students to the college and support their integration into the academic, social and cultural environment by providing them with cross-cultural experiences and professional skills. Second, it aims to increase internationalization opportunities and diversity in the lives of Mizzou Engineering students.

Internationalization is an umbrella term used to describe programs and activities with a recognizable international dimension. These could be faculty and student exchange, study abroad, international development programs, foreign language studies, joint degree programs and comparative studies, among others. Historically, engineers have been limited in their ability to participate in such programs because of the rigors of the engineering curriculum.

But internationalization means hitting the books is no longer enough to be a successful engineer. These days, an engineer needs not only technical skills, but also “softer” skills such as leadership qualities, creative entrepreneurial thinking, and cross-cultural communication skills. The National Academy of Engineers said in a 2005 report: “U.S. engineers must become global engineers… The engineer of 2020 and beyond will need skills to be globally competitive over the length of his or her career.”

Mizzou Engineering faculty members have been working to make agreements with international universities to create internationalization opportunities for students both domestic and abroad. To date, more than 15 Memorandums of Understanding (MOU) and cooperative agreements of other types have been negotiated and signed with universities in China, India and Ukraine. Several more are in the works. These partnerships allow international students to attend Mizzou, which increases diversity and international relations for domestic students who are not able to travel. In addition, Mizzou Engineering’s Offices of Student Enrichment and Diversity and Outreach Initiatives developed MU’s first-ever engineering-specific, short-term study abroad course, ENG3000. The two-week program includes a trip to London, Manchester and Paris and will be offered in the spring of 2010. Mizzou Engineering students will gain international experience and three credit hours without sacrificing an entire semester of coursework. Other options are being developed too, such as international summer camps, research-intensive courses and semester-long opportunities.

Developing and maintaining these long-term partnerships with prestigious universities around the world will increase Mizzou Engineering’s visibility and reputation. But the greatest beneficiaries of the international partnerships that are being created are the engineering students who will be better prepared for the challenges brought about by the dynamically changing world.

For more information about the College of Engineering’s international programs, please contact Vlad Likholetov at likholetovv@missouri.edu.