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A non-profit publication of the Office of the University Relations of Virginia Tech,
including The Conductor, a special section of the Spectrum printed 4 times a year

Students collaborating internationally

By Liz Crumbley

Spectrum Volume 18 Issue 15 - December 7, 1995

Using state-of-the-art technology available at Virginia Tech, students in the College of Engineering met their counterparts in the Ecole des Mines de Nantes, France, via video-conference on November 17 as part of their collaboration on senior design projects.

The university's Video Broadcast Services in Whittemore linked the two schools with telephone lines, mixing camera images to enable the students and faculty members on both continents to introduce themselves and their projects. Engineering Dean Bill Stephenson also spoke with the students and the president of Ecole des Mines.

Pamela Kurstedt, Tech's assistant dean for engineering enrichment and international programs, explained that the video conference is the first of several exchanges the Tech and French students will have during their collaboration. The students also will communicate via e-mail and fax. In January, the Tech students will travel to Nantes and to the university's villa in Riva San Vitale, Switzerland, to work with the French students on management plans for their projects.

"The cultural exchange is as important for all the students as is the exchange of engineering ideas," Kurstedt said. "Today, engineers must work with other cultures to compete in the global marketplace. The College of Engineering strongly supports international experience for students at all levels."

Tech engineering students are required to work in teams on design projects aimed at solving real problems of real companies. The French students are required to be fluent in English before they graduate and must participate in an international English experience during their final year. The 44 Tech and 42 Nantes students will meet those requirements through this collaboration.

The Tech students' design projects will be supervised and evaluated by Jim Marchman and Bill Mason, professors of Aerospace and Ocean Engineering, and Brian Kliner, an associate professor of Industrial and Systems Engineering. Kurstedt is teaching Professional Success Skills for Teamwork, the project-management course taken by all of the Tech students involved in the international collaboration.

The Tech students formed seven design teams to work on projects for five companies-Comp-U-Dose, Corning, Litton-Fibercom, Rexnord, and Wolverine-and for two national aerospace competitions-General Aviation Vehicle and High Endurance Unmanned Aerial Vehicle. Each of the Nantes students has been assigned to one of these teams. During their week of intensive work in Europe in January, the Tech and Nantes teams will merge into consulting "firms" to develop management plans for the design projects from both U.S. and French engineering perspectives.

This collaboration is only a segment of the exchange program between Tech and Nantes. During the 1994-1995 academic year, Kurstedt said, students and faculty members made exchange trips. In October of this year, Tech President Paul Torgersen and Ecole des Mines Director Robert Germinet signed an "Agreement of Academic and Scientific Cooperation" for a four-year exchange of faculty members, students, research, and educational programs.