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Infusing Real World Experiences into Engineering Education (2012)

Chapter: University of Rhode Island

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Suggested Citation:"University of Rhode Island." National Academy of Engineering. 2012. Infusing Real World Experiences into Engineering Education. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18184.

International Engineering Program

Lead Institution: University of Rhode Island, Kingston, RI

Collaborating Institutions: Technical University of Braunschweig, academic institutions in Germany, France, China, Spain and Mexico; industry

Category: Global/Curricular

Date Implemented: September 1987

Website:; Online Journal for Global Engineering Education



Program Description: The University of Rhode Island International Engineering Program (IEP) leads simultaneously to a Bachelor of Science in engineering and a Bachelor of Arts in German, French, Spanish, or Chinese. Students study the language and related culture(s) each semester along with their engineering curriculum, and spend the entire fourth year abroad completing one semester of study and research experience at a partner university and a six-month professional internship with a company where the target language is the primary source of communication. The goal is to graduate engineering students with a high level of competency in a second language as well as significant practical engineering experience in a different cultural setting. The IEP has also impacted graduate engineering education with the introduction of dual degree master’s and doctoral programs in partnership with the Technical University of Braunschweig in Germany. The IEP is a totally integrated experience, beginning on day one of the first year, and maintains high standards from both the engineering and language points of view, requiring students to function as engineers in a cross-national setting. The University sends more engineering students abroad for a full-year experience and graduates more engineers with newly acquired languages than any other school in the country. An additional outcome of the IEP which had not been foreseen originally is its appeal to women, minorities, and bright high school graduates who are initially reluctant to study engineering. The faculty involved have been very conscious of the experimental nature and the challenges in bringing together two disparate disciplines for a common goal. Language faculty are heavily involved in offering specialized courses for the IEP students and in preparing them for experiences abroad as exchange students and interns. Several partner companies provide pre-internships for students at U.S. facilities, followed by six-month internships at their facilities abroad. Many students find employment with our corporate partners and our placement rate for graduates is very close to 100%. For the last 15 years IEP has sponsored the annual Colloquium on International Engineering Education, attracting people from around the world.

Anticipated and Actual Outcomes: Outcomes include: (1) strong technical education measured through classroom assessment and evaluation of research work at university and internship; (2) second (or third) language competency measured by national foreign language proficiency standards; (3) cross-cultural communication skills evidenced through long-term program evaluation; (4) exposure to engineering as practiced in other cultural environments; (5) foundations of a global professional network through experiences abroad; (6) newfound mobility and love of travel as a necessary skill for the global workplace; (7) success in applications for the best graduate schools and other unique opportunities. An investigation of the long-term impact as seen by students now in the workplace showed the extent to which the overall program positively affects both personal and professional development. Graduates tell us that their time spent abroad, in addition to the outcomes above, dramatically increased their problem-solving, confidence, self-reliance, communication, leadership, and courage to take calculated risks. It furthermore enabled them to elevate personal goals and reach for standards and achievements which had seemed unattainable.

Assessment Information: Assessment is ongoing and multifaceted, including traditional classroom work assessment; assessment of internships and study abroad via evaluation of student journals, written reports, student debriefing, collection of feedback from faculty and internship mentors abroad, and longitudinal case studies of graduates; language assessment through classroom work, demonstration of success on the job, and American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages proficiency examinations. Evaluation also includes data collection regarding program recruitment and growth, student retention, success in the job market, and corporate interest in the program. Assessment of the program has also come in the form of recognition by external awards. The IEP has graduated over 350 students, many of whom have put their global skills to work. Twenty five percent of all engineering undergrads are currently enrolled; approximately 35 students go abroad each year.

Funding/Sustainability: The program was funded initially for three years with a FIPSE grant ($155,000), which supported release time for development, the creation of special German language sections for engineering students, and travel to develop internship opportunities with companies in Germany. Funding has come from the U.S. Department of Education, NSF, the National Security Education Program, German and Chinese governments, corporations, and private foundations and donors. Total funding support to date is over $10,000,000. The full-time directorship and coordinator are funded by the university as are salaries of key faculty in the program. There are IEP line items in the budgets of both the College of Engineering and Arts & Sciences that cover all personnel. The operating costs of the Living and Learning Community are part of the student room and board costs. Yearly donations from foundations, corporations, and individuals that have been consistent over the last 15 years continue to provide operating expenses and steady increases to the IEP endowment. The yield from this endowment supports student scholarships and travel. Most IEP students are supported at least partially by honors scholarships.

Suggested Citation:"University of Rhode Island." National Academy of Engineering. 2012. Infusing Real World Experiences into Engineering Education. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18184.
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The aim of this report is to encourage enhanced richness and relevance of the undergraduate engineering education experience, and thus produce better-prepared and more globally competitive graduates, by providing practical guidance for incorporating real world experience in US engineering programs. The report, a collaborative effort of the National Academy of Engineering (NAE) and Advanced Micro Devices, Inc. (AMD), builds on two NAE reports on The Engineer of 2020 that cited the importance of grounding engineering education in real world experience. This project also aligns with other NAE efforts in engineering education, such as the Grand Challenges of Engineering, Changing the Conversation, and Frontiers of Engineering Education.

This publication presents 29 programs that have successfully infused real world experiences into engineering or engineering technology undergraduate education. The Real World Engineering Education committee acknowledges the vision of AMD in supporting this project, which provides useful exemplars for institutions of higher education who seek model programs for infusing real world experiences in their programs. The NAE selection committee was impressed by the number of institutions committed to grounding their programs in real world experience and by the quality, creativity, and diversity of approaches reflected in the submissions. A call for nominations sent to engineering and engineering technology deans, chairs, and faculty yielded 95 high-quality submissions. Two conditions were required of the nominations: (1) an accredited 4-year undergraduate engineering or engineering technology program was the lead institutions, and (2) the nominated program started operation no later than the fall 2010 semester. Within these broad parameters, nominations ranged from those based on innovations within a single course to enhancements across an entire curriculum or institution.

Infusing Real World Experiences into Engineering Education is intended to provide sufficient information to enable engineering and engineering technology faculty and administrators to assess and adapt effective, innovative models of programs to their own institution's objectives. Recognizing that change is rarely trivial, the project included a brief survey of selected engineering deans concern in the adoption of such programs.

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