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International Co-oOp Experience at the Base of the Economic Pyramid for Engineering Students

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2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Vancouver, BC

Publication Date

June 26, 2011

Start Date

June 26, 2011

End Date

June 29, 2011



Conference Session

Expanding the Borders of Engineering Education

Tagged Division

Cooperative & Experiential Education

Page Count


Page Numbers

22.947.1 - 22.947.9



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Paper Authors


John Farris Grand Valley State University

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John Farris is currently an associate Professor in the Padnos College of Engineering and Computing at Grand Valley State University (GVSU). He earned his Bachelors and Masters degrees at Lehigh University and his Doctorate at the University of Rhode Island. He has 12 years of college engineering teaching experience as well as three years of industrial design experience. His teaching interests lie in the product design, first year design, design for manufacture and assembly and manufacturing processes. Dr. Farris is also involved in the development and delivery of a new graduate biomedical engineering masters degree with a focus on the medical device development

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Paul Merritt Lane Grand Valley State University

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Dr. Lane is a Professor of Innovation in the Brooks College of Interdisciplinary Studies and teaches in the Seidman College of Business. Over the last 11 years Lane has worked with his engineering coauthor in new product, entrepreneurship, innovation, and particularly innovation at the base of the economic pyramid.

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International Co-op for Engineers at the Base of the Economic PyramidAn increasing number of employers, students and engineering schools are recognizing the valueof meaningful international and intercultural experiences. However, students in prerequisitedriven curriculums like engineering find it hard to fit time to go abroad into their scheduleswithout delaying graduation. The problem compounded for students in institutions that requireperiods of cooperative education. In addition, many study abroad programs are expensive andtherefore available only to the most financially advantaged students. This paper describes aprogram designed to address these concerns while challenging students cultural frameworks andengineering talent.The program provides participating students with an in-depth cultural immersion experience inNicaragua, the second poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. During the three-weekprogram students learn limited Spanish, live with local host families, take a business and cultureclass, work in a local manufacturing company and work with local students to design and build aproduct to meet a need identified by local community members. The program is based in Estelí,Nicaragua where the faculty sponsors have extensive experience and contacts. The faculty co-sponsors have run an innovation and entrepreneurship program in Estelí for the past five years.The program is specifically designed to appeal to engineering students and fit into the perquisitedriven engineering curriculum.The objectives of the program are listed below. 1. Provide an opportunity for students majoring in engineering to participate in a study abroad program. 2. Provide an opportunity for students majoring in engineering live, learn and work in a culture at the base of the economic pyramid. 3. Provide an opportunity for students majoring in engineering to design products for people living at the base of the economic pyramid.During the first week of the program, students will spend their mornings in Culture, Businessand Language class. A local language school is providing a customized mix of essential Spanishlanguage training, visits to local businesses and culturally relevant community excursions. In theevenings students will have a chance to process their experience through discussions with facultyand journaling. During the afternoons of the first week the students will work with local studentsto repair products brought in by community members. This activity will help the studentsunderstand the resources and technology available to the community. During the afternoons ofthe second week students will work in local manufacturing companies to learn how companiesoperate and solve problems in a different culture at the base of the economic pyramid. In thethird week, students from the US and Nicaragua will work together to design and prototypesolution to a problem identified by local community members. The aim of the combined teamwill be to design a solution that can be made in Nicaragua and sold at a price that averageNicaraguans can afford. The weekends will be reserved for visiting a rural community andsightseeing.

Farris, J., & Lane, P. M. (2011, June), International Co-oOp Experience at the Base of the Economic Pyramid for Engineering Students Paper presented at 2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Vancouver, BC. 10.18260/1-2--18143

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