Asee peer logo

Short-term Study Abroad: Engineers Gaining Intercultural Competency

Download Paper |


2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


Virtual Conference

Publication Date

July 26, 2021

Start Date

July 26, 2021

End Date

July 19, 2022

Conference Session

Environmental Engineering Division Technical Session 1: Intercultural Competency-infused Teaching

Tagged Division

Environmental Engineering

Tagged Topic


Page Count


Permanent URL

Download Count


Request a correction

Paper Authors


Inez Hua Purdue University, West Lafayette

visit author page

Dr. Inez Hua is Professor in the Lyles School of Civil Engineering and the Division of Environmental and Ecological Engineering. Her research and teaching areas include aquatic chemistry, water pollution control, environmental sustainability in engineering education, and sustainable electronics. Dr. Hua has a Ph.D and an MS in Environmental Engineering and Science from the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), and a BA in Biochemistry from the University of California, Berkeley.

visit author page

Download Paper |


The program “Sustainability Across Sectors-Sweden” at Purdue University was developed to help engineering students meet specific learning outcomes required by their majors, including an understanding of how engineering fits into a global, economic, environmental and societal context. The program provided an opportunity for undergraduate engineering students to understand how culture and technology contribute to differences in environmental sustainability practices and environmental quality in Sweden and the United States. Students spent Spring semester completing academic and cohort building activities, and then traveled to Sweden in May. The course combined elements of traditional classroom teaching with experiential activities abroad, to ensure academic rigor while developing intercultural competency. The activities in Sweden were founded on strong partnerships with higher education institutions, including the Royal Institute of Technology (KTH), Swedish federal agencies, utilities and private companies. Participants interacted with researchers and practitioners from many different sectors (transportation, energy, urban planning, manufacturing, pollution control, and construction) in Sweden during technical visits, seminars, and tours.

Specific learning objectives included: (i) applying material and energy balances to full-scale systems in Sweden, (ii) analyzing how environmental policies are implemented with technical or non-technical solutions in Sweden, and comparisons with the United States, and (iii) evaluating the scientific basis of selected metrics for ‘environmental performance’ for Sweden and the U.S. Students met these objectives by completing written homework assignments, directed discussions and small-group activities, professional communications with the Swedish partners, and a final paper.

Fifty-five engineering students have completed the program. Assessment of students' intercultural competency included pre-program and post-program completion of the Intercultural Development Inventory (IDI), summative teaching evaluations, and a post-program survey of alumni. The Sustainability Across Sectors – Sweden program impacted students’ short- and long-term academic and professional paths. The summative teaching evaluation scores reflect that students gained new cultural perspectives and that the program integrated Swedish culture into the curriculum. Students also recognized the program in the larger context of their engineering major at Purdue University. The short-term benefits continued and evolved to shape students choices regarding graduate school, thesis research topics, additional intercultural and international experiences, and career pathways. Most respondents were located in the United States when they completed the survey. Students also identified specific program elements that were particularly impactful. These elements included technical site visits (manufacturing, infrastructure, water and wastewater treatment plants) and in-depth tours and discussions related to national or municipal governance in Sweden. Several respondents reported a direct impact on the types of projects they chose to work on, or the type of employer they sought. The most recent cohort of students (from 2019) demonstrated advancement along the intercultural competence continuum. The three evaluation methods (summative teaching evaluation, post-program alumni survey, and IDI) were de-coupled, so it is not possible to synthesize responses from each method for individual students. However, results from all assessments are consistent, and suggest that students gained multiple skills by completing a short-term study abroad program.

Hua, I. (2021, July), Short-term Study Abroad: Engineers Gaining Intercultural Competency Paper presented at 2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual Conference.

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: © 2021 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