Joshi and Chandra look to expand study abroad programs for industrial engineers
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – Elena Joshi and Jeya Chandra, faculty members in Penn State's Harold and Inge Marcus Department of Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering, are globetrotting this semester in an effort to expand and enhance study abroad and student exchange opportunities for students in their department.
Traversing from New Zealand and Australia to Ireland and Spain, the duo is focused on developing relationships with English-speaking universities known for strong engineering and operations research programs. This will allow students to immerse themselves in a new culture and gain a broader perspective of how their studies and experiences can make a global impact on industry and society as a whole.
“We realized that we need a better system to get our students to have that global engineering experience,” said Joshi, a lecturer and the undergraduate program coordinator. “We want to broaden opportunities for industrial engineering students without overwhelming them with procedural issues.”
On average, more than 250 students within the College of Engineering spend some time abroad each year. The university offers a wide variety of study abroad and exchange programs through the Office of Global Programs; however, there are currently only two established exchange programs designed specifically for industrial engineering students—with Technion – Israel Institute of Technology and with the University of Navarra at San Sebastian in Spain (also known as TECNUN).
Joshi said she is often asked about study abroad and exchange opportunities but the language barrier at the two existing programs is an issue and students are reluctant to go to a volatile area, such as the Middle East, to study.
“The process for me to go abroad as an industrial engineer was difficult,” said Kelly Gagnon, an industrial engineering undergraduate currently studying abroad at the University of Cape Town in South Africa. “The universities we have partnerships with are non-English speaking so I had to do extensive research on my own to find courses that transfer back to Penn State toward my degree requirements. Even now as I am abroad, I am not exactly sure if my credits will be received correctly by Penn State, which could affect my graduation date.”
Joshi and Chandra have met with university officials at the University of Auckland in New Zealand, the University of New South Wales and the University of Sydney in Australia, the University of Limerick in Ireland and TECNUN and Institut Quimic de Sarria (IQS) in Spain to discuss developing specific English-intensive curricula and plans of study for students to follow while they are abroad.
Guillermo Reyes Pozo, head of the department of industrial engineering at IQS, said his students show tremendous interest in studying in the United States.
“Every year I visit many universities in the United States with strong engineering programs—Carnegie Mellon, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of Central Florida—but I feel most comfortable at Penn State,” he said. “It is a highly ranked, research-oriented university that is very large, but the people there are accessible and I always feel very comfortable and welcome at Penn State.”
Joshi said that study abroad programs are an opportunity for tremendous growth as students get hands-on exposure to different cultures and are often times immersed in a new language, forcing them to adapt to a completely new environment.
“The experience typically leads to greater confidence in the student, but it also makes them stand out when it comes time to look for jobs,” added Joshi, “Employers know that students who are willing to take the opportunity to study abroad tend to be more independent and mature, but now, they are also more globally aware. That experience is invaluable in today’s marketplace.”
“My semester at the University of Cape Town has been the most amazing experience of my life,” added Gagnon. “I am immersing myself in another culture entirely and learning about real problems other countries around the world are facing today. I have been inspired as an engineer to tackle these issues and bring my inspiration back home to shape the rest of my education.”
As for next steps, Joshi and Chandra are currently sorting through syllabi to determine engineering courses that will translate in student exchange situations with the different universities and once curricula can be established, they will meet with the Office of Global Programs to discuss formal partnerships. In the future, Joshi and Chandra hope to expand programs to countries such as Singapore and China.
Pamela Krewson Wertz