When Ordel Brown, teaching assistant professor of freshman engineering and faculty advisor at West Virginia University, noticed a need for engineering-based study abroad options for her students, she jumped at the chance to create a new program.
“I advise more than 150 engineering students, and all of those who studied abroad did so through another discipline or program,” said Brown. “I saw the need for a service-learning engineering-based study abroad program and wanted to make sure our students had that option.”
When Brown looked for a location, she looked home to her native Jamaica. After teaming up with Amizade, a global service-learning organization, Brown chose the towns based on their need for engineering assistance.
The four-credit course began in the spring 2015 semester with a half-semester class at West Virginia University that teaches students about Jamaica’s culture and sustainability and identifies partner communities’ needs in engineering education and construction. Students will use these lessons to source materials and build and test prototypes for projects while managing a budget.
The course culminates with a two-week trip to Montego Bay and Petersfield, Jamaica, July 6-17, where students will use their new-found knowledge and prototype plans to assist the community. Students will stay in traditional resorts and homestays with local Jamaican families.
“Resort areas are beautiful but only provide a one-sided experience of the culture and society of a foreign country,” said Brown. “Participating in homestays will give students the opportunity to fully immerse themselves into the lives of local families and help them better understand the impact of their engineering efforts.”
Students will be involved in many activities on the trip including teaching middle and high school students about engineering and introductory computer skills, leading engineering design competitions and assisting with basic on-site mechanical and construction repairs. In addition to academic engagement, students will participate in field trips to cultural and historical landmarks, snorkeling and kayaking in a marine park and zip-lining through the rainforest.
The course can count toward the Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources’ Certificate of Global Competency, which endorses a student’s ability to work effectively across cultural and linguistic barriers while focusing on engineering issues that transcend culture.
“There is a high demand for engineering graduates that are globally competent,” said Brown. “This goes beyond mere knowledge and appreciation of diverse cultures and languages to include engagement in structured activities that allow for true gains in one’s capacity to function across sociocultural boundaries.”
The engineering service-learning course is open to all undergraduate engineering majors. Tuition fees cover course delivery and instruction, airfare, ground travel, accommodation, meals, field trips and scheduled educational, cultural and service activities, travel and medical insurance. More information can be found at http://www.studyabroad.wvu.edu.
“Our students gain much more than credits when spending time abroad,” said Brown. “Our students will learn to function on international teams, become more socially responsible, have fun and develop great friendships that will be invaluable in their lives and careers.”
CONTACT: Mary C. Dillon, Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources
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