Engineering students are fanning out to Brazil, Uganda, Rwanda and Italy this week for the conclusion of a unique type of course that blends classroom instruction with short but significant international experiences.
Global Intensives–piloted by CU Boulder for the first time in spring 2018–are short-term global programs embedded into on-campus, faculty-led courses. All include a 10- to 12-day immersion abroad that complements and expands on the material studied throughout the semester.
That short glimpse is often enough to create a seismic shift in perspective among students whose careers will increasingly require global awareness, said Andrew Wingfield, director of international programs in the College of Engineering and Applied Science.
Plus, the format allows engineering students to reap those benefits without missing out on summer internships or losing progress toward their degrees. Because the courses are set in the regular academic year, students do not pay additional tuition dollars and only have to cover their travel costs. And in many cases, scholarships and grants further reduce students’ out-of-pocket costs, Wingfield said.
“Through these Global Intensives, students get an outsized impact from a short-term visit,” Wingfield said. “There’s no better way to apply technical skills or appreciate cultural differences than to experience it firsthand.”
Complex Leadership Challenges
On Sunday, 12 students departed for Kampala, Uganda, where they’ll work with the Global Livingston Institute, led by a CU alumnus, to explore how leadership challenges play out in East Africa.
Throughout the spring, students in ENLP 3100: Complex Leadership Challenges, researched an issue of their choice ranging from education, health and energy to the environment, technology and more. Senior Instructor Angela Thieman Dino said their time in Kampala and Kabale, Uganda, and Kigali, Rwanda, will add depth to those topics and “expose the students to complexity on a whole other level.”
Through May 23, they’ll meet with residents, leaders and organizations to learn how those groups are innovating within rural and urban communities.
Although a brief trip provides only a glimpse into these enormous issues, Thieman Dino said it’s useful to reveal to participants where they lack clarity and how they might affect change responsibly as they enter their careers.
“Part of what we see in this class is really this humbling and exciting personal experience students have as they realize that there’s so much to know about something, and you’re never going to know enough,” she said. “Yet you can learn; you can equip yourself to be exceptionally resourceful.”
The Global Intensive is open to all engineering majors and class years who take COEN 3050, Thieman Dino said. Some participants received scholarships through the Office of International Education and the College of Engineering and Applied Science that made the trip possible.
Several students also extended their stay to include internships and research opportunities.
Thieman Dino intends to offer the course annually as a staple in the Engineering Leadership Program.
Energy Systems in the Built Environment
The Italian newspaper La Provincia published an article about the CU Boulder students' visit to Lecco in 2018–and again in 2019.
This week, Professor Gregor Henze will lead seven students to northern Italy to cap a course focused on energy systems in the built environment across the globe.
They arrived May 11 in Lecco, about an hour north of Milan, where they’ll team up with students from Politecnico di Milano, a leading engineering, design and architecture university, to work on designing a zero-net-energy building in a challenging location. They’ll attend lectures, conduct a hands-on workshop, and participate in a design competition and presentation judged by Italian engineers and professors, Henze said.
They’ll also make time for social activities, a 10K run to view Milan on foot, a boat outing on the Lago di Como and meals with their Italian counterparts.
“I think what students get out of it is a bit of cross-cultural literacy,” Henze said. “They’re open, they want to learn but they just haven’t had a chance to. It lets students know that we’re not the center of the Earth; there are other ways of doing things.”
Thanks to a grant from RASEI, the Renewable and Sustainable Energy Institute at CU Boulder, airfare will be students’ only cost for the two-week program.
Henze built the course, AREN 4110/5110, based on longstanding relationships with faculty member Graziano Salvalai and Marta Sesana at Politecnico di Milano and is teaching it for the second time this spring.
Sustainability in Brazil
Ten students from engineering environmental studies are collaborating to explore Amazonian and Atlantic forests in Brazil and understand the challenges inherent in their sustainable development.
This week they’re traveling to Acre and Bahia, Brazil–states rich in globally significant natural resources–to learn how stakeholders are working to navigate the relationships between people, the planet and profits.
The two engineering students in the group will work with Professor Bernard Amadei to introduce biogas digesters that use organic material to create methane for cooking. The local community will evaluate the solution and determine how to move forward with the proof-of-concept.
Students in the course, ENVS 4100/5100, will learn how to define and address challenges from technical, policy and behavioral perspectives. They’ll explore forests around the Chico Mendes Extractive Reserve and interact with businesses, governmental agencies and community organizations.
They’ll also join community leaders to discuss sustainability issues, explore beaches and forests, and visit a cacao farm.
Amadei is partnering with CU Boulder anthropologist Colleen Scanlan Lyons and environmental scientist Peter Newton, and all three bring extensive knowledge and experience with the communities. The course also builds upon collaborative agreements between CU Boulder and the state government of Acre, the Federal University of Acre, and the State University of Santa Cruz.
The course was partially funded through a $24,000 CU Boulder Outreach Award.
Amadei, who founded Engineers Without Borders-USA, said placing engineers in challenging conditions where they can learn firsthand is incredibly valuable to their careers and to global development efforts.
“A student who has led a project in the Amazon, who had to deliver a solution there, had to deal with four or five people, is a different student from say, someone who has studied in books,” Amadei said. “In safe conditions, they can learn the ropes. I think we don’t do enough of that.”