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Students Gain Confidence, Independence through Study Abroad

Studying abroad is the chance of a lifetime for many students. It helps them find out who they are, what they believe in, and how far they can stretch themselves. Students advance professionally and personally in ways they might never have imagined.

Dean David Allen is a strong proponent of study abroad programs for students. At Texas A&M University, Allen organized several student trips to Europe. It’s an activity he would like to see increase at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln College of Engineering & Technology.

“Studying abroad helps students gain confidence and independence and increases their cultural awareness,” he says. “This is valuable experience to have in today’s global economy.”

Five students from UNL’s College of Engineering & Technology accompanied Allen and A&M students on a seven-week study abroad program in France last summer. Although it was the first time abroad for most of the Nebraska students, they wouldn’t hesitate to go back.

“I feel confident that I could easily go over to Europe by myself and do just fine,” says Tara Dorn, a junior in industrial and management systems engineering from Bellevue.

The UNL group also included Luke Francis, a junior in mechanical engineering from Lincoln; Mitch Minarick, a senior in ME from North Bend; James Randazzo, a junior in chemical engineering from Kansas City; and Jason Myers, a civil engineering graduate student from North Platte.

The trip’s itinerary included stays in Paris, Caen and several places in southern France, along with an intensive curricular component. Students enrolled in two courses of their choice. They were able to apply the credits toward their degree program at UNL.

Dorn took courses in international communications and metals. “We covered a lot of material in a short amount of time,” she says. “The classes were all taught in English, so we didn’t have to know a foreign language. But we did have to work hard.”

Minarick, who studied finite element analysis and European structures, says the coursework was valuable but secondary to what he learned outside the classroom.

“The opportunity to be exposed to the culture was awesome,” he says. “We did a lot of sightseeing on the trip. I highly recommend the experience to other students.”

Dorn would agree. On free weekends, she went to the Moulin Rouge in Paris and traveled to Cannes.

“The trip gave me a broader window from which to see the world,” she says. “Because everything was planned out for us, we were able to experience more of the culture without any hassles. It’s also a short time to be away, so you’re less likely to get homesick.”

Glenn Hoffman, head of the Department of Biological Systems Engineering, thinks today’s engineering students should be internationally educated. He says any student who has skill in a foreign language, who has studied another culture in depth, or has lived or studied overseas has an advantage in the workforce.

“It’s not uncommon for newly hired engineers to be stationed overseas within the first few years of their employment,” he says. “If they know what to expect, through a prior trip, they’ll be less anxious and better prepared to truly enjoy the experience.”

—Deb Derrick
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