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International Engineering Program wins award for innovative study abroad model

By Farah Casalini
On February 2, 2012


Having been a part of the winner's circle for a while now, the University of Rhode Island's International Engineering Program (IEP) has yet another award to boast about.

Its third award of the year, the IEP has been recognized for its excellent model in its study abroad program with the 2012 Andrew Heiskell Award for Innovation in International Education.

"[URI] has developed a ground-breaking IEP program that serves as a model for engineering and language educators across the country," the Institute of International Education, the organization who presented the award, wrote in a press release.

Sigrid Berka, IEP executive director, attributed the achievement to the students' hard work and dedication as well as to the university's ongoing support of the program.

"[This award] is reflective of not just the excellence of the IEP students, but also the university and its mission to internationalize," she said.

Heading into its 25th year on campus, the IEP is a five-year dual bachelor degree program, where students earn a B.S in engineering and a B.A in a foreign language.

One of the most unique parts of the program is that students spend the first semester of their fourth year studying abroad in either Spain, Germany, France or China, and the second semester at a six-month paid internship, completely immersing the students in a foreign culture.

Berka said other schools with an international engineering program, while they talk about globalizing their students, fail to successfully cross-culture their students. For example, she said other schools don't require a degree in a language or send their students abroad for such an extensive amount of time,  not properly preparing their students.

"[URI's] IEP has successfully developed a rigorous model that trains students to globalize," Berka said.

She said the complete immersion that the program requires of the students is crucial to the acquisition of special skills, including problem solving and adaptation to another lifestyle.

"[These students] have the opportunity to really step outside of [their] bubble and see the world from the outside," she said. "If they never do, they will always be ethnocentric."

The IEP program has won plenty of awards over the years, but Berka said the recent marketing tactics have increased the program's publicity, resulting in increased recognition.

"One of our priorities was to get the message out about our program," she said.

Brian Kintz, who studies computer engineering and German, is just one example of the IEP's success stories. Kintz studied in Germany and interned at an IAV automotive supplier, which then offered him a job. Berka said  when he came back, his German skills were so advanced, the university asked him to teach German to students.

As a result of his tremendously improved German skills, Berka asked him to chaperone a trip to Germany. On one of the tours, Kintz acted as a translator, translating even the most technical terms that Berka said she had trouble understanding.

In the past 11 months, the IEP has won four awards, including this one, along with the 2011 Sen. Paul Simon Spotlight Award for Campus Internalization. The two other awards were awarded to former director of the program, John Grandin. He received the German Academic Exchange Service Alumni Award for International Exchange and the Association of Departments of Foreign Languages Award for Distinguished Service to the Profession.

"We owe the success of the program to him and his efforts," Berka said of Grandin.

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