Florida engineering technology students who studied in Spain with support from the National Science Foundation gained new perspectives on energy systems and conservation efforts through their classroom lessons and cultural experiences.
"Over there, everywhere we went they made sure we turned the lights off," said Danielly Orozco-Cole, Curriculum Coordinator of the Florida Advanced Technological Education Center for Excellence (FLATE). Walking long distances and taking public transportation— the most common modes of transportation in Spain—showed the students that energy conservation is a way of life in Europe.
FLATE is one of several Advanced Technological Education centers that have provided study-abroad experiences to students and faculty in recent years with supplemental grants from NSF's International Science and Engineering program.
These international activities are an example of other NSF divisions becoming interested in ATE, according to Duncan McBride, co-lead of the ATE program within the NSF Division of Undergraduate Education (DUE).
As more NSF program directors have become familiar with community colleges through ATE, they have "realized that technician-level education is very important to all sorts of things NSF does," McBride said.
Students Gain "Priceless" Cultural Experiences
"The cultural experience is priceless: to learn how people live, think, and how they learn in the classroom," Orozco-Cole said. A native of Colombia, Orozco-Cole taught the students basic Spanish and translated some of the lessons in alternative energy manufacturing systems at the Usurbilgo Lanbide Eskola. In advance of the students' trip, FLATE faculty developed modules that connected what the students saw and experienced at the manufacturing cooperatives in the Basque Country of Spain with the engineering technology curriculum FLATE had previously developed for their home institutions.
The students' comments about their three weeks in Spain confirm Orozco-Cole's observations about the deep impressions the Spring 2012 trip made on the students who ranged in age from 18 to 55 years old. Several of the students were incumbent, employed technicians. Most of the students, who attend FLATE-affiliated colleges, had previously not traveled outside the U.S.
Since returning to Florida, three of the students have accepted jobs in alternative energy fields and one was temporarily assigned overseas.
Marilyn Barger, FLATE principal investigator, is glad that the trip helped students who were searching for jobs get hired. She's optimistic that in the long run the experience will help all the students be better employees, even if it is evident only in their patience in dealing with colleagues and customers who are not fluent English speakers.
With even small manufacturers selling products internationally and operating overseas facilities, Barger said a global perspective is becoming an essential skill. Technicians are increasingly expected to figure out simple tasks like the best time for conference calls across multiple time zones as well as more complicated things like getting around in a foreign country.
Employers Value Technicians with International Experience
Michael Ennis, a manufacturing engineer who manages environmental health and safety at Harris Corporation, agrees that technicians who have traveled abroad are assets to employers.
Harris Corporation, for instance, occasionally sends engineering technicians into the field to provide product support. "Employees that already know what it is to travel to another country are a huge benefit to our teams. Just knowing the little things can help others on the team: knowing how to get around an airport in another country and how to go through customs helps those on the team that don't have the experience."
As a FLATE industry partner and adjunct instructor, Ennis traveled to the Basque Country with faculty from FLATE-affiliated colleges in the summer of 2011 to evaluate the curriculum possibilities and recommend the one that fit central Florida's manufacturing employment opportunities. Ennis teaches industrial safety, mechanical measurement, applied mechanics, instrumentation fundamentals, and soldering at the Palm Bay campus of Brevard Community College. (The college is changing its name to Eastern Florida State College this summer.)
As a person who hires technicians, Ennis has another reason for taking a second look at applicants who have studied or worked abroad. "I have found that prospective employees who have international travel under their belt, these are mostly ex-military people, have an appreciation for jobs in the U.S. of A."
Ennis has noticed such appreciation and as well as the increased self-confidence of the two Harris employees, Tracy Moehler and Kelly Andino, who were among the student travelers to the Basque Country. "The training was challenging for them and they rose to the occasion. Challenges were not just in the classroom, but in daily routines—from ordering food, to catching the right city bus, to talking with the local students. I believe they now know that nothing is too hard, if you try," he said.
Learning firsthand how European manufacturing companies work has enhanced Ennis' teaching and given him ideas about how to present material differently. "The trip also provided experiences that I can share with my students, to give them a different perspective on what they can do with their degree . . . [and] explain to them that manufacturing processes are essentially the same around the world."
Question for Educators
Has ATE facilitated cultural experiences for your students and faculty?
Tell us about them in an email to ATE20@atecentral.net.