STEM majors: go abroad, it’s possible

Isa Bjorkeson, Contributing Writer

The majors with the most students participating in global experiences have an international component to their coursework. According to Sammi DiBacco’s blog post, “5 Reasons Why Engineering Students Should Study Abroad,” these majors with international connections include “language, literature, architecture and the arts.” Additionally, many engineering students get deterred from study abroad and other extracurricular opportunities because of loaded semesters, internship expectations and difficulty finding satisfactory courses abroad. There are limitations that prevent many students from seeking global experience opportunities, causing them to believe that having this global experience is not possible.

Who Can Go Abroad?

Anyone. Participating in a semester abroad, an international summer course or a break trip offers all students the chance to expand upon their coursework and apply what they learn at the University in a global context. Understandably, coursework is not the only hurdle preventing students from studying abroad, since activities like varsity sports draw the same tensions. 

I am on the University’s track and field team and I compete as a pentathlon athlete. Combining global experiences with engineering coursework and college athletics has been a uniquely rewarding experience during my time at the University, and it is certainly not something to neglect.

My Background

A global perspective was instilled in me from a young age. My father is Swedish and grew up in Portugal for many years before coming to the United States for college. My mother is Puerto Rican and grew up in Venezuela before moving to the United States for college. My parents embraced the opportunities in the United States and worked to build a future for their family, including teaching my siblings and myself the value of an international perspective.

I was born in the United States, lived in Sweden from ages nine to 12, and was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to travel extensively with my family before beginning my college career. The international history of my mother’s and father’s families encouraged me to learn three languages while also enhancing my personal perspectives in everything from social policies to public transportation to different recycling practices.

Before beginning school at the University, I was worried I would not have the same opportunity to travel as a student-athlete majoring in mechanical engineering and management. Between my on-campus commitments and my preconceived stereotypes of other engineers, I had anticipated being on campus for the majority of my time as an undergraduate. However, to my delight, I quickly learned that the University provides a significant number of opportunities for all students to enhance their education with global outreach opportunities, including athletes and engineering students.

A Personal Global Experience

At the University, I have continued to take part in global experiences. I have been a member of the University’s Brigade team to Nicaragua, where I continued to practice the Spanish I had learned in my courses and from my Latin family. 

Once I returned to campus from the Brigade trip, I dove into my passion for trying to study abroad and began to research opportunities and fill out my application. Though options are limited for engineers, they led me to unexpected experiences. I was able to study abroad in Dublin, Ireland during the fall semester of my fourth year at the University. While abroad, I pursued an internship at a pharmaceutical manufacturing site and played for the University College Dublin’s varsity soccer team.

I landed in Dublin almost exactly a year ago. While I had lived in Europe for three years of my life already and thought I would already be familiar with local culture, habits and people, it was difficult to fully grasp all the nuances and complex dynamics of this country from abroad. But now, back at the University’s campus and with time to reflect, all of those things are much clearer to me. More importantly, they have greatly enriched both my life and my way of thinking. 

Back from Abroad

When I returned from my study abroad in Dublin, I became more involved with the global education office and joined the Global Ambassador Program (GAP). As a global peer educator in the program, I worked to advocate for increased opportunities for engineering students to study abroad and encouraged other engineering students to pursue global opportunities. The opportunities offered through the University’s global education programs have far exceeded my initial expectations. However, I aim to continue to work toward enhancing the international educational outreach on campus because of the value that international experience has on developing students, regardless of their field of study.

I was able to combine international experience with my academics and athletics, which helped me to become more comfortable with change and unfamiliarity.

When I initially came to the University, I thought I wanted to work as a manufacturing engineer or within the management team at a manufacturing facility. As I prepare to leave this beloved campus, however, I have managed to bring two of my passions together: international travel and competitive academic endeavors. With these interests, I have been able to become a global and multidisciplinary engineering and management student. Due to my global and academic experiences, I have accepted a job offer in a leadership training rotational program with a global Fortune 500 company. In my next few years after graduation, I will be completing three uniquely located rotations, each a year long.

While I always had a passion for travel and new experiences, I did not anticipate the opportunities provided through the University and how they would change my development as a student and a global leader, especially when I am about to begin my career. I am grateful for all the opportunities I have had to expand my global perspective and encourage all students to be unafraid of leaving their comfort zone to challenge themselves in a new setting whenever possible.

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