June 24, 2017
June 24, 2017
June 28, 2017
The ASEE has increasingly supported education that introduces students to diverse cultural environments. Since 2006, the School of Engineering at the University of Dayton has sponsored a study abroad program in Italy focused on problem solving and leadership development in a cultural context different from the United States. Conducted in Florence, this program has four interrelated objectives: (1) to develop skills in observation, data collection, and analysis, (2) to apply engineering problem solving techniques to “real life” situations, (3) to cultivate an understanding of how a specific culture grapples with technical challenges, and (4) to investigate how different models of leadership improve team building and design solutions in an international environment. The program begins with a “deep dive” familiarization with Florence: students examine the city as it awakens and then explore the site throughout that day until the city sleeps again that night. This focus on the whole city continues throughout the program as students are regularly introduced to the connections between the city’s rich history and cultural patrimony and its present-day engineering challenges in negotiating with that same history and storied heritage. In concert with this cultural/technical perspective, student groups examine historic and contemporary Florence in light of six elements of the city’s infrastructure: water, transportation, waste handling, communication, energy, and housing. Each group is then assigned one of these elements to investigate in depth by identifying a challenge related to that element, collecting data, drawing conclusions, and proposing recommendations for improving that element of the infrastructure. In addition to focusing on Florence, the program conducts comparative visits to sites important to the history of engineering, including Vinci, Pisa, Assisi, and Rome. In these sites, each with its own engineering challenges, students use engineering heuristics and problem solving techniques to provide one-day, intensive “back of the envelope” solutions for challenges posed by that locality. The theme of leadership is interwoven throughout the program with students being introduced to a variety of approaches to this subject both in and beyond the field of engineering. The goal is not only to educate students about different leadership approaches, but to encourage them to adopt, intermingle, and experiment with these approaches throughout the program. Students maintain engineering journals that are shared among peers and reviewed individually for the range of observations, the quality of sketches/engineering diagrams, and the depth of questioning and thinking brought to bear on a particular infrastructure element as well as on the city and its culture in general. Students and their groups are regularly encouraged to pose hypotheses and to test these with observational experiments that contribute to their growing comprehension of engineering realities and possible solutions. Each group gives a presentation on site at the close of the program, an experience by which participants appreciate the breadth of engineering challenges, the range of cultural and historical variables, and the variety of solutions for addressing infrastructure questions in an international context.
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