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Scenes from The University of Rhode Island

Graduate degree program and Chinese initiative added to URI’s renowned International Engineering Program

Media Contact: Todd McLeish, 401-874-7892

Grants from Texas Instruments, German government helping program grow

KINGSTON, R.I -- January 5, 2005 -- Engineering students seeking intercultural learning and career opportunities in today’s global workplace are finding new options available through the University of Rhode Island’s International Engineering Program.

The renowned program, one of the first in the U.S. to combine engineering and foreign language components with a year studying and working abroad, is now offering a similar program for graduate students. It will also soon begin offering a Chinese language option for undergraduate students interested in studying and working in China. And the program will take over a former fraternity house in 2005 to accommodate growing student interest.

“More and more of the top engineering students are showing an interest in the program, so we want to provide them with as many options as possible,” said John Grandin, professor of German and executive director of the program. “Because of the rapid expansion of global business, our grads are in very high demand. The program cannot keep pace with the worldwide demand for engineers with cross-cultural communication skills.”

Similar to the program for undergraduates, which requires students to double major in a foreign language (German, French or Spanish) and an engineering discipline and spend a year abroad, students in the new graduate degree program spend one year on the URI campus and the second year abroad. Students end up with dual Master’s degrees from URI and the partner institution abroad.

The first American student in the program, Eric Sargent of Warwick, is currently in Germany studying at the Technical University of Braunschweig in Germany and completing his thesis in cooperation with automaker BMW in Munich.

“There are a multitude of classes offered here in Germany in a variety of fields which I can say with a great deal of certainty would have no equivalent in the U.S.,” Sargent said. “And I’m amazed that someone would be willing to pay me to write my thesis while working at one of the top automotive companies in the world. It’s a great opportunity.”

To help the program grow, the German government has provided a $320,000 grant to support students and develop common research programs between URI engineering faculty and faculty members at Braunschweig. “Our goal is for a graduate student to start a research project here at URI with one professor and finish it in Germany with a partner faculty member there,” said Grandin.

Thanks to a $50,000 grant from Texas Instruments of Attleboro, Mass., the groundwork is being laid to offer a Chinese option to undergraduate students in the International Engineering Program.

“We’ve been told by many companies that in order to truly be an international program, we need to have a presence in China,” said Grandin, a resident of Wakefield. “We can’t ignore the 1.3 billion people and the tremendous economic growth there.”
URI has already begun to offer Chinese language classes for the first time in many years, due in part to growing student interest.

“The easy part was finding companies to offer internships in China, since most of the companies we already work with in Europe also have operations in China,” Grandin said.

To finalize plans for the Chinese option, Grandin is seeking a partner university in China. Among those he is meeting with is Tongji University in Shanghai, which already has a working relationship with many of the companies that offer URI student internships in Germany and elsewhere.

Due to the growth of the URI program, it will soon expand into another building on the Kingston campus. The Chi Phi fraternity, located adjacent to the International Engineering Program house on Upper College Rd., will begin construction of a new fraternity house next spring. When they move from their existing house, it will be renovated for use as a second residence hall and programmatic center for students in the engineering program.

Funding to acquire the building was provided by Heidi Kirk Duffy, longtime chair of the program’s Advisory Council. When renovations are complete, it will house 40 of the program’s 180 students. The existing International Engineering Program facility also houses 40 students, as well as program offices and a dining area.

“The two buildings will serve as an excellent learning community for students with similar goals, where they can live and study together,” Grandin said. “It’s a great atmosphere for the students.”