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Improving the Global Competency of Graduate Engineers Through Peace Corps Partnership and Long-term International Service

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2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Seattle, Washington

Publication Date

June 14, 2015

Start Date

June 14, 2015

End Date

June 17, 2015





Conference Session

International Division Technical Session 8

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Page Numbers

26.930.1 - 26.930.18



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Paper Authors


Nathan Daniel Manser University of South Florida

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Nathan Manser is an Environmental Engineering PhD candidate at the University of South Florida conducting research on the fate of pathogens in biological waste to energy systems. His research interests include the application of household engineered systems to recover resources in a low impact environment, developing globally competent engineering graduates and integrating active learning methods into engineering curriculums.

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Colleen Claire Naughton University of South Florida

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Colleen Naughton is a doctoral student at the University of South Florida in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. She is advised by Dr. James R. Mihelcic. Colleen is also part of the Peace Corps Master’s International Program where she served and conducted research in Mali, West Africa for three years as a Water and Sanitation Extension Agent. Her research was focused on “Monitoring and Evaluation of an Appropriate Handwashing Technology.” Colleen’s dissertation research involves a human and embodied material energy analysis of the Shea Butter process; mapping the Shea Butter belt using Geographic Information Systems (GIS) to estimate the area and population that work with and consume Shea butter; and quantifying emissions of carbon black from the smoking and boiling of shea nuts.

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Matthew E Verbyla

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Matthew Verbyla is a Ph.D. candidate and National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow at the University of South Florida, where he studies pathogen removal and microbial risk of water reuse in wastewater treatment pond (lagoon) systems. Matthew obtained his B.S. in Civil Engineering from Lafayette College in 2006, and his M.S. in Environmental Engineering from the University of South Florida in 2012. Matthew is an E.I.T. and a LEED Green Associate with several years of work experience both in the United States and in Latin America.

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Christine Prouty University of South Florida


Kevin Orner University of South Florida

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Kevin Orner is a PhD student at the University of South Florida.

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James R. Mihelcic University of South Florida

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Dr. James R. Mihelcic is a Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering and State of Florida 21st Century World Class Scholar at the University of South Florida. Dr. Mihelcic directs the Peace Corps Master's International Program in Civil & Environmental Engineering ( which allows students to combine their graduate studies with service and research in the Peace Corps as water/sanitation engineers (in developing world settings). He is also director of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) National Research Center for Reinventing Aging Infrastructure for Nutrient Management (RAINmgt). He is an international expert in provision of water, sanitation, and hygiene in developed and developing world communities. His teaching and research interests are centered around engineering and sustainability, specifically understanding how global stressors such as climate, land use, and urbanization influence water resources, water quality, water reuse, and selection and provision of water supply and sanitation technologies.

Dr. Mihelcic is a member of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Chartered Science Advisory Board. He is past president of the Association of Environmental Engineering and Science Professors (AEESP), a Board Certified Environmental Engineering Member, and current Board Trustee with the American Academy of Environmental Engineers & Scientists (AAEES). He is lead author for 4 textbooks: Fundamentals of Environmental Engineering (John Wiley & Sons, 1999) (translated into Spanish); Field Guide in Environmental Engineering for Development Workers: Water, Sanitation, Indoor Air (ASCE Press, 2009); and, Environmental Engineering: Fundamentals, Sustainability, Design (1st and 2nd Editions, John Wiley & Sons, 2010, 2014) (1st Edition translated into Spanish and Portuguese).

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Improving the Global Competency of Graduate Engineers Through Peace  Corps Partnership and Long­Term International Service    As society addresses the major challenges associated with food, water, energy and climate change there is an increasing need for engineers that are interdisciplinary and globally competent. Global competency is “the ability to understand and work effectively with engineers and other co­workers who are raised, educated, and living in countries other than their own and who solve and define problems differently than oneself” (Downey et al., 2006).  Comparative studies have demonstrated the importance of international experiences in developing global competency (Shen et al., 2011).  In 2012, 341,284 U.S. students participated in some form of international study abroad program (4% engineering discipline), however less than 1% of the total serve or study abroad for more than one academic year (IIE, 2013).  It is this short duration that brings into question the efficacy in developing globally competent engineers.  Conversely, the Master’s International Program at the University of South Florida is an existing graduate partnership with the U.S. Peace Corps that provides a unique opportunity to develop global competency of young engineers. Our students receive at least two years of supervised professional service and international research experiences that includes specialized training in language, culture, participatory planning, and sustainable development.  The students also gain a global perspective while performing research in an international context of economic, social, and environmental limitations.  As the program approaches its seventh year, this study assesses its effectiveness of training globally competent engineers through survey­based quantitative and qualitative metrics obtained from program alumni, students currently abroad, and students on campus awaiting their international experience.  The qualitative metrics are framed within the following core competencies outlined by the National Research Council; development of language and cultural skills, teamwork and group dynamics, knowledge of international business and engineering cultures, and knowledge of variations in international engineering education and practice (NRC, 1999).  Recent program graduates are assessed based upon their current professional placements to better understand if our engineers are utilizing the skills developed in our program.  The quantitative portion of the assessment investigates the contribution of knowledge that was generated by the participants by evaluating the distribution of peer­reviewed publications and other methods of knowledge transfer that were made.  Preliminary results suggest that the partnership with the U.S. Peace Corps and the University of South Florida has improved the global competency of our engineering graduates as exemplified by recent publications that assess resource recovery from sanitation systems, determines embodied material and human energy in provision of water, uses solar distillation to improve access to drinking water, investigates the sustainability of infrastructure that includes life cycle thinking and principles of sustainable development, and applies material balances to solid waste management in small island developing states.       Downey, G. L., Lucena, J. C., Moskal, B. M., Parkhurst, R., Bigley, T., Hays, C., Nichols‐ Belo, A. (2006) The Globally Competent Engineer: Working Effectively with People who Define Problems Differently,” Journal of Engineering Education, 95(2), 107­122.   Institute of International Education (IIE) (2013).  Open Doors: 2013 Fast Facts.  U.S. Students Studying Abroad. Chicago, Illinois.  National Research Council (NRC) (1999). Engineering Tasks for the New Century: Japanese and U.S. Perspectives, The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C.  Shen, Y., Jesiek, B. K., Chang, Y. (2011) “Cultural Orientation and Global Competency: A Comparative Assessment of Engineering Students.” Proceedings of the Annual Conference of the American Society for Engineering Education, Vancouver, Canada, June 26–29.     Improving the Global Competency of Engineers Through Peace Corps  Partnership and Long­Term International Service    As society addresses the major challenges associated with food, water, energy and climate change there is an increasing need for engineers that are interdisciplinary and globally competent. Global competency is “the ability to understand and work effectively with engineers and other co­workers who are raised, educated, and living in countries other than their own and who solve and define problems differently than oneself” (Downey et al., 2006).  Comparative studies have demonstrated the importance of international experiences in developing global competency (Shen et al., 2011).  In 2012, 341,284 U.S. students participated in some form of international study abroad program (4% engineering discipline), however less than 1% of the total serve or study abroad for more than one academic year (IIE, 2013). Conversely, the Master’s International Program at the University of South Florida is a graduate partnership with the U.S. Peace Corps that provides at least two years of supervised professional service and international research experiences that includes specialized training in language, culture, participatory planning, and sustainable development.  The students also gain a global perspective while performing research in an international context of economic, social, and environmental limitations.  As the program approaches its seventh year, this study assesses its effectiveness of training globally competent engineers through survey­based quantitative and qualitative metrics obtained from program alumni, students currently abroad, and students on campus awaiting their international experience.  The metrics are framed within the following core competencies outlined by the National Research Council; development of language and cultural skills, teamwork and group dynamics, knowledge of international business and engineering cultures, and knowledge of variations in international engineering education and practice (NRC, 1999).   Distribution of peer­reviewed publications and other methods of knowledge transfer that were made are evaluated.   Downey, G. L., Lucena, J. C., Moskal, B. M., Parkhurst, R., Bigley, T., Hays, C., Nichols‐ Belo, A. (2006) The Globally Competent Engineer: Working Effectively with People who Define Problems Differently,” Journal of Engineering Education, 95(2), 107­122.   Institute of International Education (IIE) (2013).  Open Doors: 2013 Fast Facts.  U.S. Students Studying Abroad. Chicago, Illinois.  National Research Council (NRC) (1999). Engineering Tasks for the New Century: Japanese and U.S. Perspectives, The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C.  Shen, Y., Jesiek, B. K., Chang, Y. (2011) “Cultural Orientation and Global Competency: A Comparative Assessment of Engineering Students.” Proceedings of the Annual Conference of the American Society for Engineering Education, Vancouver, Canada, June 26–29. 

Manser, N. D., & Naughton, C. C., & Verbyla, M. E., & Prouty, C., & Orner, K., & Mihelcic, J. R. (2015, June), Improving the Global Competency of Graduate Engineers Through Peace Corps Partnership and Long-term International Service Paper presented at 2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Seattle, Washington. 10.18260/p.24267

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