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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

Engineering students get international experience

By Liz Crumbley

Spectrum Volume 18 Issue 19 - February 1, 1996

In January, 42 students from the Virginia Tech College of Engineering spent part of their winter break in Europe, collaborating on design projects with students from Ecole des Mines de Nantes (EMN), a French engineering school. About half of the Tech students met with their French counterparts at the university's villa at Riva San Vitale, Switzerland; the others traveled to Nantes in northwestern France.

The recent exchange program is part of a four-year agreement of academic and scientific cooperation between Tech and EMN for the exchange of faculty members, students, research, and educational programs. The collaboration between the two schools is inspired in part by the growing need for students to learn about engineering concepts and practices in other nations to prepare for global competition as professional engineers.

Tech engineering students are required to work in teams on design projects aimed at solving industrial problems; Ecole des Mines students are required to be fluent in English and to participate in an international English experience. The exchange program was developed to help participating students meet those requirements.

During Fall semester 1995, 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 EMN students was assigned to one of these teams. During their week of intensive work in Europe, the Tech and EMN teams acted as consulting engineers and developed project management plans that incorporated U.S. and French engineering perspectives.

Both in Switzerland and France, the students adhered to a week-long schedule of classes and design work beginning early each morning and continuing some days until midnight. "The week over there was worth about a month here in terms of progress on the design projects," said James F. Marchman, professor of aerospace and ocean engineering, who accompanied the Tech students to Nantes.

The exchange program was initiated and coordinated for Tech by Pamela Kurstedt, assistant dean for engineering enrichment and international programs, who worked with the students in both Switzerland and France. Brian Kleiner, associate professor of industrial and systems engineering, and Carlene Arthur, assistant to Kurstedt, traveled to Riva San Vitale. Three EMN faculty members also participated.

"Our Virginia Tech students benefited greatly from the week with Ecole des Mines students," Kurstedt said. "Their design projects are strengthened technically; their interest in France is increased; and their self-confidence about working in an international setting is improved." The technical and collaborative aspects of the program were successful "beyond our expectations," she remarked. "The Tech and EMN students were serious, supportive, and yet, relaxed about working and living together."