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Preparing Engineering Students To Work In A Global Environment: The Union College Model

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2001 Annual Conference


Albuquerque, New Mexico

Publication Date

June 24, 2001

Start Date

June 24, 2001

End Date

June 27, 2001



Page Count


Page Numbers

6.796.1 - 6.796.10

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Paper Authors

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William Thomas

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Ann Anderson

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Richard Wilk

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Ronald Bucinell

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

Session 3460

Preparing Engineering Students to Work in a Global Environment: The Union College Model

Richard D. Wilk, Ronald B. Bucinell, Ann M. Anderson, William W. Thomas Union College Schenectady, New York


It is important for engineering students to develop an international perspective to practice their profession in a society that is becoming increasingly global in scope. A key element in developing this perspective is acquiring an appreciation of, and respect for, other cultures. We believe the best way to do this is through a significant international academic or experiential component in the curriculum that exposes students to a culture other than their own. This will help prepare them to live and work in an international environment. Union College has long had a strong international component in its curriculum. Part of the College’s General Education Curriculum is dedicated to providing students with substantial knowledge of another culture. This has been accomplished, in part, by significant study of a foreign language or culture, but primarily through the term abroad program in which students spend a trimester living and studying in a foreign country. Prior to 1996, engineering students were exempt from this part of the General Education Curriculum and few elected to participate in the term abroad program, mainly because of perceived curricular constraints and a failure to appreciate the ultimate importance of such an experience to their personal and professional futures. However, as part of a major revision of the engineering curriculum that was implemented for the entering freshman class of 1996, all engineering students are required to satisfy this part of the curriculum. Since then, additional international study programs have been developed. These include an engineering exchange program, a “mini” or concentrated term abroad during the term break, an international term-in-industry, and the “international virtual design experience”. Now engineering students have a variety of options from which to choose that will help them to develop the ability to function and interact with people in a foreign culture. This paper describes these different programs and discusses the process used to establish and support them.


In his defining book on the topic, Friedman1 describes globalization as the international system that replaced the Cold War system. Globalization is the integration of capital, technology, and information across national borders, in a way that is creating a single global market. Phillips2 points out that it is engineers who are mainly responsible for bringing about the new era of globalization through technological developments, especially the development of computers and high speed communication networks. It is ironic that we as engineering educators, now find ourselves in a catch-up situation to produce engineering graduates for the 21st century who can work and live in this environment. The growing global nature of the engineering profession, clearly, has made it necessary for engineering students to develop an international perspective to be able to practice their profession in a society that is becoming increasingly complex and global in scope. This need has been clearly articulated, for example, by Jones et al.3,4, and the

“Proceedings of the 2001 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition Copyright  2001, American Society for Engineering Education”

Thomas, W., & Anderson, A., & Wilk, R., & Bucinell, R. (2001, June), Preparing Engineering Students To Work In A Global Environment: The Union College Model Paper presented at 2001 Annual Conference, Albuquerque, New Mexico.

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