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International Engineering Program recognized for efforts to globalize

By Farah Casalini
On March 31, 2011

  • Ahkiel White, a University of Rhode Island senior, forces opposing Old Dominion receiver out of play during the 3rd quarter of Saturday's Football game at Meade Stadium. Teresa Kelly

The University of Rhode Island's International Engineering Program (IEP) won the 2011 Senator Paul Simon Spotlight award for its efforts to internationalize the campus.

Association of International Educators, the organization that delivered the award, recognizes programs on college campuses that excel in international initiatives, along with collective efforts from the campuses as a whole.

Director of IEP, Sigrid Berka, nominated URI because of the combined efforts of faculty and administration to make URI a more internationalized campus, as well as the "innovative program" that the IEP offers.

The IEP requires its students to earn a bachelor's degree in engineering as well as a foreign language. Each student then studies abroad for a year, first taking courses in language and engineering and then interns at an engineering firm. According to its website, the program has almost a 100 percent job placement rate after graduation.

"It is the leading engineering program in the country," Berka said. "It is a model of depth and quality."

The Association of International Educators echoed Berka's statement. On its website, it says that URI is a "leader in internationalizing its engineering curriculum and in creating a global environment for students through foreign language learning and connections to companies that are globally oriented."

However, Berka said that in order to qualify for the award, there needed to be an effort to internationalize all over campus. She said that without the support of the provost, faculty, administration and President David M. Dooley, URI wouldn't have won the award.

Berka said that this award will raise awareness toward the efforts of the university and the IEP. While the program's model was used to develop the International Business Program, Berka said that the recognition from this award will hopefully encourage other colleges on campus to "try the same technique." Also, she said that the publicity from this award could attract potential students.

"[URI] is on the right track in supporting internationalization," she said.

She also said that despite the initiatives taken on campus, she would like to see more exchange students coming to URI from other countries. She said that only 1 percent of students on campus are exchange students and that if URI was to increase that percentage, students could learn "new perspectives and have a better global understanding."

"If we had more [exchange students], it would lead to URI students opening up their minds," she said.

URI will be presented with the award in Vancouver this June.             

The award is designed to honor the late Senator Paul Simon of Illinois. Throughout his career, he advocated for international education and spent his last years persuading the federal government of the importance of students, "the country's future," understanding different cultures. He was also co-founder of the National Security Education Program, which "addresses critical national security deficiencies in language and cultural expertise."

The Association of International Educators is now determined to follow Simon's initiatives and continue to promote international education.

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