KINGSTON, R.I. – Nov. 17, 2022 – In 1987, the University of Rhode Island launched a program that radically changed the way engineering students prepare to compete in the global marketplace.
Long before words like global, interdisciplinary and experiential were common in higher education, URI launched its five-year International Engineering Program. Initially, students had the opportunity to earn bachelor’s degrees simultaneously in engineering and German, but now, more than three decades later, students can combine engineering with a degree in Chinese, French, German, Italian, Spanish, or Global Language and Area Studies with a concentration in Japanese.
The program is one of many being celebrated this week at URI as part of International Education Week, an event designed to showcase global education and exchange opportunities.
URI’s International Engineering Program is still the leading program of its kind, according to the global non-profit organization the Institute of International Education, which said, “The University of Rhode Island’s groundbreaking International Education Program serves as a model for engineering and language educators across the entire country.”
“I am grateful to have the privilege of working with our fantastic directors, staff, alumni and talented students in the IEP,” said Sigrid Berka, professor of German and executive director of the program. “They are an inspiration in terms of what they accomplish and how they make the most of their dual educational track and immersion abroad. We have 41 students in Europe and Asia right now, and we were fortunate to hear some of them share their wisdom with the next generation preparing to go in 2023-2024 at today’s “Voices from Abroad” panel as part of International Education Week.
“We benefit from a large global corporate network and highly engaged alumni, both from URI and from our partner universities abroad, on whom we can rely to host our students for their upcoming six-month internships in their respective countries.”
A full 100% of the program’s graduates study abroad for one calendar year compared to just 0.1% of engineering students nationally, with more than 900 students securing internships abroad throughout its history. The program also has attracted a student population more diverse than national engineering trends, with an enrollment composed of 32% women, compared to 20% nationally, and 24% percent from underrepresented populations.
“The International Engineering Program is URI’s original signature international program. It serves as the inspiration and model for other global programs that combine a field of study with language proficiency and long term study abroad, offering our students opportunities to learn, work and become global citizens,” said Kristin Johnson, interim vice provost for Global Initiatives.
Signature and language intensive programs following this long term study abroad model include the Chinese Language Flagship Program, International Business Program, International Computer Science Program, International Studies and Diplomacy Program, International Pharmaceutical Sciences Program, and the Textiles, and Fashion Merchandising and Design Program.
A student tells his story about what the program is doing for him
As a teenager, Kevin Suggs was a fan of anime, electronics, and engineering. As a student in URI’s International Engineering Program, he is pursuing his interest in engineering in part by studying in Japan, the place that produced anime.
“I knew URI had a strong engineering program and the in-state tuition rate made URI a more feasible option,” said Suggs. “I heard about the International Engineering Program during orientation and when I noticed there was an option for Japanese, I seized the opportunity.”
In September, the fifth-year student headed to Japan as part of his bachelor’s degrees in computer engineering and Japanese. The fall semester includes humanities and language classes at Kyushu University in Fukuoka, Japan. During the spring semester, he’ll conduct research or work as an intern for a Japanese company.
Suggs is a recipient of both a Boren Scholarship and a Beatrice S. Demers Foreign Language Fellowship. Seven URI students won Boren Awards, the most prestigious study abroad awards offered to U.S. college students, placing the University sixth in the nation for the number of 2022 Boren recipients.
In June, even before leaving for his year abroad, Suggs seized an opportunity on campus that helped prepare him for his global experience. When a Japanese team of engineers installed a new electron probe microanalyzer in URI’s Shimadzu Engineering Research Core Facility, Suggs was enlisted as an interpreter. Makoto Motoyama, an engineer with Shimadzu in Japan, was part of that team. Suggs spent two weeks at URI’s Fascitelli Center for Advanced Engineering interpreting for Motoyama and his American counterparts.
“The experience improved my confidence with the Japanese language,” said Suggs. “I pinpointed my strengths and weaknesses with the language, which will help me prepare more effectively for living, studying, and working in Japan.”
Suggs began his studies at URI as a participant of the Talent Development program, a special program for Rhode Island high school students from disadvantaged backgrounds.
“Talent Development was a great resource in my college career,” he said. “The program helped me stay on a track to success and helped me financially with grants. I had an advisor I checked in with and he directed me to resources that were useful for my classes and my well-being.”
While Suggs isn’t sure where his current experience in Japan will take him, he’s open to the possibilities. “I would like to work as an engineer in America or Japan,” he said. “What I like most about computer engineering is its versatility. There are many different career paths I could take, such as software, hardware, architecture, and more. I find technology to be very cool and interesting, so I would love to contribute to that in some way.”