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Engineering Study Abroad Programs: Formats, Challenges, Best Practices

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2007 Annual Conference & Exposition


Honolulu, Hawaii

Publication Date

June 24, 2007

Start Date

June 24, 2007

End Date

June 27, 2007



Conference Session

Preparing Engineering Students for International Practice

Tagged Division


Page Count


Page Numbers

12.653.1 - 12.653.17



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Paper Authors


Alan Parkinson Brigham Young University

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Alan Parkinson is a professor of Mechanical Engineering and Dean of the Ira A. Fulton College of Engineering and Technology at 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

Engineering Study Abroad Programs: Formats, Challenges, Best Practices Abstract

This paper is a report of a survey of engineering study abroad programs made in order to understand a number of questions, such as: 1) what types of programs are in existence, i.e., what is the state-of-the-art relative to engineering study abroad, 2) what are the challenges associated with these programs, and 3) what constitutes a set of best practices regarding these programs?


Engineering is a global enterprise. Is it not uncommon for engineers to work on multi-national teams designing products which will be manufactured in one part of the world (e.g. Asia) to be sold in another part of the world (e.g. Europe and North America). As chronicled in Thomas Friedman’s best selling book, The World is Flat1, the advances made by engineers and technologists have made it possible for their work to be done nearly anywhere. Engineers, therefore, need to have a broad understanding of other cultures and countries.

To further emphasize this point, consider the following three quotes from, respectively, William Wulf, president of National Academy of Engineering; Duane Abata, president of ASEE, and Ken Kohrs, former vice president of Ford Motor Company:

“…engineering is now practiced in a global, holistic business context, and engineers must design under constraints that reflect that context. In the future, understanding other cultures, speaking other languages, and communicating with people from marketing and finance will be just as fundamental to the practice of engineering as physics and calculus.”2

“Outsourcing is affecting engineering and all the facets that encompass engineering, including research, design, marketing and service…This is a major revolution in engineering education. We must internationalize our curriculum, to include not only the study of mathematics and the sciences but intercultural interaction as well. We must mold our students to be entrepreneurs, and spirited international adventurers as well.” 3

“What’s the relevance of globalization to you personally, and to your future in engineering? I can answer that in one word: Everything. No matter what area of engineering you enter, your ability to remain on the leading edge, and to progress in our organization, will depend largely on your capacity to connect and communicate globally.” 4

Given the impact of globalization upon engineering, it is to be expected that more and more engineering programs are sponsoring study abroad programs. Participation is increasing but is still relatively modest. The most recent data indicate that in 2003/04 school year, 5,548 engineering students participated in some form of study abroad program.5 This would represent about 7.5% of the graduating class, based on the most recent ASEE graduation data.6 Accordingly, a number of universities have set ambitious goals to increase the number of engineering students with an international experience. As an example, Georgia Tech has set a

Parkinson, A. (2007, June), Engineering Study Abroad Programs: Formats, Challenges, Best Practices Paper presented at 2007 Annual Conference & Exposition, Honolulu, Hawaii. 10.18260/1-2--1706

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2007 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015