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China Megastructures: Learning By Experience

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2009 Annual Conference & Exposition


Austin, Texas

Publication Date

June 14, 2009

Start Date

June 14, 2009

End Date

June 17, 2009



Conference Session

International Aspects of Civil Engineering

Tagged Division

Civil Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

14.320.1 - 14.320.9



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Paper Authors

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Richard Balling Brigham Young University

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract


A study abroad program for senior and graduate civil engineering students is described. The program provides an opportunity for students to learn by experience. The program includes a two-week trip to China to study mega-structures such as skyscrapers, bridges, and complexes (stadiums, airports, etc). The program objectives and the methods for achieving those objectives are described. The relationships between the program objectives and the college educational emphases and the ABET outcomes are also presented. Student comments are included from the first offering of the program in 2008.


This paper summarizes the development of a study abroad program to China where civil engineering students learn by experience. Consider some of the benefits of learning by experience. Experiential learning increases retention, creates passion, and develops perspective. Some things can only be learned by experience. Once, while the author was lecturing his teenage son for a foolish misdeed, his son interrupted him with a surprisingly profound statement, "Dad, leave me alone....sometimes you just got to be young and stupid before you can be old and wise". As parents, it's difficult to patiently let our children learn by experience.

The author traveled to China for the first time in 2007. He was blindsided by the rapid pace of change in that country, and by the remarkable new mega-structures. More than half of the world's tallest skyscrapers, longest bridges, and biggest complexes (stadiums, airports, etc) are in China, and most of these have been constructed in the past decade. Many innovative green technologies are employed in these mega-structures. These mega-structures are the result of a global process of competitive selection of designs submitted by international architectural/engineering firms. China represents civil engineering on steroids. The author immediately thought that his students needed to experience this.

The author organized a study abroad program titled "China Mega-Structures" that was offered for the first time in May-June, 2008. China Mega-Structures is a senior or graduate technical elective course in civil engineering. Prerequisites include completion of undergraduate courses in structural analysis and either structural steel or reinforced concrete design. The program includes four weeks of intense instruction on mega-structure analysis and design followed by a two-week trip to China, including visits to Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Hong Kong, and the Three Gorges Dam. In 2008, eighteen students (including two women) completed the program, and in 2009, twenty students (including four women) have registered for the program. In both 2008 and 2009, the program cost was about $4000, of which the students paid $2500 and the college/department paid $1500 with funds coming primarily from off-campus donors.

A new aspect is planned for the 2010 program. The author will continue to offer the China Mega-Structures program, and another professor will offer a new China Mega-Cities program that will focus on transportation and city planning of large mega-cities. Students in both

Balling, R. (2009, June), China Megastructures: Learning By Experience Paper presented at 2009 Annual Conference & Exposition, Austin, Texas. 10.18260/1-2--4564

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