Engineering Study Abroad Program takes flight, makes plans for the future
Miguel Ayllon likes to remind students who are considering an MU Engineering study abroad experience that as engineers in an increasingly global marketplace, they might eventually find themselves among colleagues in a country other than the United States.
“I typically tell students that engineering is a global language,” said Ayllon, whose primary focus as MU College of Engineering’s international outreach coordinator is the Study Abroad Program. “We are trying to build sound academic programs that equip our students with global and cross-cultural competencies because you never know when you might be sent on an international job.
“And,” he added, “the U.S. workforce is also becoming increasingly diverse.”
Student travelers, who typically attend an eight-week pre-departure class, earn three hours of either upper level humanities credit or credit in the engineering topic addressed by the trip.
Study abroad trips to West Africa and Spain during winter break and spring break, respectively, earned travelers humanities credit. Such trips are a mix of excursions to historical, cultural and scenic must-sees mixed with visits to engineering-related industries. Trips also include a visit to the partnering area university that has served as a resource as plans were laid for the trip.
In Spain, student travelers saw the Aqueduct of Segovia, attended engineering seminars at Saint Louis University- Madrid and went on a tour of the Airbus facilities in Madrid. They also were treated to a trip on the AVE train system, one of the fastest trains in the world, and paid a visit to Polytechnic University of Catalonia, the largest supercomputer and robotics institute, among other outings.
With the University of Western Cape as a partner for the South Africa trip, MU students broke into teams before the trip to plan engineering activities to present at a four-day engineering summer camp at a disadvantaged high school, Bellville South, in Cape Town. In addition to other outings, they also toured the huge Kusile coal-fired power station in Mpumalanga, South Africa, now under construction by Kansas City-based Black & Veatch.
Humanities trips generally last from 10 to 14 days, and travelers must keep a journal of their experiences (see sidebar) and write a final paper telling why the trip made them a better engineer.
A planned trip to Dublin, Ireland, in June and July with MU electrical engineering Professor Bob O’Connell earns students three credits in electrical circuit theory. For an entire month, they will attend classes Monday through Thursday at the renowned Trinity College, with cultural and company excursions scheduled around coursework, and three-day weekends to explore the Emerald Isle.
In another variation, MU students traveling to Shanghai, China with MU Computer Science Professor Dong Xu in June will spend two months studying computer programming and earn three to six engineering research credits while exploring the world’s second largest city.
Coordinator of the program since August 2013, Ayllon said the college is exploring some different options such as the creation of international internships and some semester-long international academic experiences where students can earn engineering credit, learn a second language, and use their engineering skills in service-learning opportunities.
“Students could learn a second language and also help a community within a developing country,” he said.
Ayllon’s passion for study abroad started many years ago with a flight from his hometown in Lima, Peru, to Macon, Ga.
“I was a high school exchange student and that trip opened doors for me. Study abroad changed my life; it led to an education, a career that I love and even allowed me to meet my wife,” he said of his choice to attend Bryan College in Dayton, Tenn., and then earn a master’s in public administration from East Tennessee State University, before coming to MU.
Now in its third year, 235 students have taken advantage of the program and Ayllon believes MU Engineering’s program is in a great position to stretch its wings and offer trips to other engineering students in the Midwest.
“It’s an exciting time to work here,” he said. “There is potential to grow and provide our services to more students in the region. I’d like to start with MU’s sister institutions and then why not reach out to the other engineering programs in our region?
“Only three percent of engineers in the country study abroad,” Ayllon said. “I think the question to students should not be, ‘Are you going?’ but rather ‘When are you going?’”