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URI International Engineering Program wins innovation award

February 3, 2012

SOUTH KINGSTOWN — Raena Morley, a Chemical Engineering and French student in the University of Rhode Island’s International Engineering Program (IEP), spent her summer unlike most students, working as in intern for Toray Plastics’ offices in Lyon, France. The experience is one which many IEP students hold, and Morley, who will graduate in 2012, is grateful that she can blend two opposite interests into one track of study.

“I feel that interning with Toray, both at home and abroad, allowed me a lot of insight into the role that cultural differences can play within the workplace, as well as which aspects don’t seem to change much,” said Morley. “It was a bit of a challenge to adapt to some of the mannerisms that come naturally to the French. For example, I needed to know when to use the polite form of you, ‘vous’, rather than the more familiar ‘tu’.”

“I experienced what it was like to work as part of an international team,” she added. “In addition to daily contact with French and Japanese employees in Lyon, my mentor with whom I communicated the most with was Romanian. She had completed a PhD in Germany before moving to France to work at Toray and was fluent in a handful of languages.”

Working at Toray Plastics, a Japanese-run company based out of Quonset which has offices in Lyon, Morley became significantly trained in the new, internationally-driven job market. The IEP is a five-year program through which students earn a B.S. in Engineering and a B.A. in a foreign language, such as German, French and Chinese.

“To me, it seemed to offer the perfectly complement my interests,” said Morley. “Having always enjoyed math and science, I had already been considering a major in engineering, but I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to fulfill an equally strong passion for literature and language. With the IEP, I didn’t have to sacrifice.”

Students have traveled to universities partnered with the IEP in Germany, France, Canada, Mexico, Spain and China, and the six-month internship in which they partake is paid. Students have worked for companies such as BMW in Germany, Hasbro in Hong Kong, or Nokia-Siemens in China. Morley understands that in order to work in foreign environments, both engineering and language instruction together is crucial to obtain.

“Geographic distances continue to shrink as communication technologies advance, and collaboration across borders in research and engineering has become the norm,” said Morley. “Large companies are continually expanding internationally. Acquiring a foreign language while studying engineering will set us apart from the rest of the applicant pool when it comes time to apply for jobs. Our year spent studying and working abroad shows that we are competent in cross-cultural interactions that will likely be inevitable in our future careers.”

“Although English is the predominant language of science, the ability to understand a foreign language and its associated cultural nuances is invaluable,” she added. “Learning French was a rewarding and enriching experience, especially when it came to my year abroad. I watched my communication skills improve exponentially during my first few months of total immersion.”

IEP has just recently received the 2012 Andrew Heiskell Award for Innovation in International Education, awarded by the Institute of International Education (IIE). The award recognizes excellence in teaching programs which provide unique and engaging pedagogical experiences for students. Sigrid Berka, Executive Director of the IEP, will accept the award on March 9 in New York City.

“This award will bring lots of good attention to URI. By going to this conference, we are hoping that leaders involved in international education will spread the word,” said Berka. “It’s our mission to get others to duplicate this flagship program, because we think this is the right way to educate and prepare our students for the global marketplace.”

“[IEP] is a powerful model because it gives language students a purpose,” she added. “If you look at the linguistic gains made when studying abroad, the highest gains apply to students studying and applying the language in an area of passion or interest during long-term immersion programs.”

Morley plans on attending graduate school and hopes to make a career of working abroad. The IEP has provided her the proper tools to do so.

“The IEP opens doors to career paths left otherwise inaccessible,” said Morley. “The success of the IEP demonstrates the hard work and dedication that the university has put into providing a unique experience for its students that will give them a competitive edge. For many students, including myself, the IEP pushed me out of my comfort zone, and in doing so, far exceeded my expectations of what an undergraduate degree program at my state university would provide.”

Southern Rhode Island Newspapers
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