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When Engineering Students Apply Theory To Practice Internationally

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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

6.1159.1 - 6.1159.4

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Susan Vernon-Gerstenfeld

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

Session 2460

When Engineering Students Apply Theory to Practice Internationally

Susan Vernon-Gerstenfeld Interdisciplinary and Global Studies Division Worcester Polytechnic Institute, 100 Institute Road, Worcester, MA


WPI has long embraced a project-based curriculum that now extends to sites throughout the world. Established programs in Europe, the Far East, Australia, Latin America and the Caribbean provide opportunities for undergraduates to complete degree-required projects with sponsoring organizations under the guidance of WPI faculty. This type of experience is unrivaled by traditional international study abroad and departs significantly from traditional internships. While working full-time, students successfully address real- world problems and are immersed in an unfamiliar culture. Each year, more than four hundred WPI undergraduates participate in this growing program. The unique opportunities inherent in the program are discussed in this paper. The students, who, each year, apply to the programs in record numbers, increasingly recognize those opportunities.

I. Introduction

For nearly thirty years, all WPI students have had to perform three academically substantive projects. One, the type discussed below, must be interdisciplinary and link technology or science with applications as well as the social implications of the application. It carries the equivalent of a minimum three courses but more commonly counts for four—or even more—and can be accomplished through the global programs, which are competitive. As a result of a well-developed network of participating sponsors at each site, WPI students have had opportunities to perform valuable work that is integral to their sponsors’ mission and that provides their sponsors with data and results that are of immediate use. Some sponsors propose a flow of projects that result in data and results that are cumulative over several years and, thus, have broad implications.

II. Global Sites

Formal project sites exist in many parts of the world including in the U.S. Sites are in San Juan, Puerto Rico; Copenhagen, Denmark; Melbourne, Australia; Zurich, Switzerland; London, England; San Jose, Costa Rica; Venice; Italy; Bangkok, Thailand; Hong Kong and even Washington, D.C. and Boston, Massachusetts. What characterizes a global site is that it is residential and off-campus; regular faculty accompany the students, often living in the same building or in very near-by housing; the students complete a preparation that includes both academic and cultural aspects; and on-site, they work on

Proceedings of the 2001 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition Copyright © 2001, American Society for Engineering Education

Vernon-Gerstenfeld, S. (2001, June), When Engineering Students Apply Theory To Practice Internationally Paper presented at 2001 Annual Conference, Albuquerque, New Mexico.

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