Is Study Abroad for You? You may want to add it to your Collection of Experiences!

By Karen Updyke

Dean Eddy Rojas traveled this summer to Florence, Italy, and was able, for a short time, to return to his love of teaching.

His reflections about study abroad in general were animated and passionate. His personal reflections were heartfelt.

“I was teaching the subject matter standing before the subject matter. No slides, no videos. Discussing the leaning Tower of Pisa right in front of the tower or lecturing about the Coliseum while walking around it was a whole different experience. Study abroad is another way that our students can add to their collection of experiences. Indeed, an engineering education at the University of Dayton should not be seen as a collection of courses, but as collection of experiences,” says Rojas.

If you are considering study abroad, Rojas advises, “Plan early and try to make it work within your plan of study and finances. The international experience is amazing. Students learn and grow significantly in the few weeks while away from home. They not only understand the importance of their classmates as community but also gain independence and become responsible for making the right decisions. We had checkpoints in place: dinner every night, classes every morning, which led to a clear sense of community.”

In engineering, we offer several types of off-campus study, including our Study Abroad programs and our hands-on domestic and international service-learning opportunities through The ETHOS Center. To plan early, you should visit our Office of Student Success, which assists our first- and second- year engineering students — the perfect place to map-out your engineering path.

In Florence this year, Dr. Roger Crum, art history, and Dr. Robert Penno, electrical engineering, joined Rojas and co-taught: Engineering Leadership and Comparative Design: A Global Engineering Perspective on the Past, Present and Future. Although engineering students have participated in study abroad for a number of years, this was the first time that the focus was on global leadership.

The faculty trio presented a unified message to the students of understanding and recognizing that differences should be appreciated. According to Rojas, “The engineering students developed a true sense of community as they depended on their classmates to navigate the cities of Italy. And, their sense of independence was heightened as they studied, traveled, and enjoyed the Italian culture.”

The individual faculty expertise amplified the student’s experiential learning. Crum’s art history background brought a new perspective to the engineering courses. Penno’s engineering background brought technical expertise as he engaged the students in project-based problem solving within the community. And, Rojas, dean of engineering, presented leadership in a unique way by requiring the students to choose a book about leadership to read and present. The stimulating discussions intertwined leadership with a diversity of ideas. 32 students — 32 books about leadership!

As a civil engineer, Rojas played a dual role teaching global leadership and enlightening the University group about history, structures and infrastructures as they toured Florence, Rome, Assisi and Vinci.

One intriguing topic, the leaning Tower of Pisa’s “Why is it leaning?” Rojas lectured at the site and answered the question. He also included additional information about the computer-generated analysis performed in the late 1990s that found that the tower should not be standing at all, which prompted an immediate evacuation of the surrounding buildings while engineers investigated the tower's stabilization. Rojas also assigned the students the task of estimating the maximum angle that the tower could lean without falling using a simplified approach and an appropriate factor of safety.

During the program, student teams worked on different aspects of sustainability: energy, water, housing, solid waste, transportation, and communications. Their task was to innovate and develop a viable solution to a specific problem to improve the community that they were visiting following in our University’s Catholic Marianist tradition.

Because bottled water usage is high in Florence, one group focused on the reduction of bottled water. First, they investigated: Why the high rate of consumption? They discovered that a misconception about the safety of the drinking water delivered by the ancient piping system in Florence led to an increase in bottled water purchases. The group proposed the implementation of communication strategies to let the population know their water is safe. They then worked on a long-range plan to innovate and develop a trenchless, lining system that would coat the piping interior and break away the ancient piping system — engineers at work!

One final student requirement was keeping a journal, not a diary, a journal where observations, questions and sketches were maintained throughout their journey to organize their thoughts. Just like Leonardo Da Vinci used to do!

In the short period of time allowed, the faculty instilled the value of history and the sense of community in 32 engineering participants in Italy for a memorable and learning adventure. Rojas reflects, “This was an opportunity to go back to the classroom, to enjoy student interaction, to teach and mentor, and to help the students to grow into the professionals who will become agents of change and global leaders who will transform companies, communities, and societies.”

Personally rewarding for Rojas was their visit to Rome and St. Peter's Basilica in Vatican City. He anticipates a return to Italy to spend several days at St. Peter’s. His description of the Basilica was inspiring, “The structure is magnificent, colossal, with art and architecture beyond spectacular; every square inch, of the largest church that I have ever seen, is beautiful.”

Personally touching for Rojas was not related to art and architecture, but the global message that they received at their public audience with the Pope. As he expressed to his wife, Denise, “I never thought that we would hear a Pope in Vatican City delivering a message in our native language, which happens to also be his native language – Spanish.” Rojas relished the exquisite moment surrounded by 10,000 people receiving the Pope’s blessing at St. Peter’s Square in front of the magnificent St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City.

Study Abroad 2017: Plan ahead, Engineers, for your “Collection of Experiences.”
Automotive Engineering in Germany (Sum 1)
ISE 408: Lean Management Methods
EGR 499: Energy Systems Technology
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