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Global perspectives influence learning, leadership

Five Ohio State students pose behind the biosand filter system they built in Ghana.After successfully building one biosand filtration system for the Atokrom village in Ghana, Rachel DuBois (left) and her fellow students constructed a second with district staff and engineers to serve as a model that can be replicated in other communities.

Being part of a service-learning trip to Ghana during her junior year at Ohio State was life-changing for civil engineer Rachel DuBois ’17. She spent two weeks working with her peers to design and install an affordable biosand filter to bring clean, safe water to residents of a remote village whose only water source was contaminated with E. coli and salmonella.

The trip not only gave DuBois an opportunity to work internationally on the clean water crisis, it also showed her that she could succeed in her future career.

“My first trip to Ghana and my involvement on a clean water project really cemented my love for engineering and my passion to get involved in international engineering,” she said. “It was the first time I could really visualize a career working internationally and being successful.”

DuBois is one of a small but growing number of Buckeye engineers who have completed the Global Option in Engineering program (GO ENGR). Launched in 2013 following extensive feedback from companies and alumni, it infuses global perspectives throughout Ohio State’s entire engineering curriculum.

“Employers are looking for students who understand global dimensions of project work or the international engagement of industry, individuals they would feel comfortable sending abroad,” said Don Hempson, director of international initiatives for the college.

GO ENGR students must complete an education abroad experience, a technical course with global context or an international internship, foreign language or culture courses, and an international engineering design experience. If students are selective they can create a custom program that doesn’t add time to graduation, Hempson explained.

Allison Kuhar takes a break from temperature testing in the Engineering Design Center's Heat Transfer and Fluid Mechanics Laboratory, part of Poland's Institute of Aviation.

“The program is unique in the sense that there is an awful lot of structure to it, but within that structure students have a lot of flexibility,” he said. “If you’re deliberate about it, you can get international experience and not add a single credit hour to graduation.”

After returning from an education abroad trip throughout England and Wales during her freshman year, aeronautical and astronautical engineering major Allison Kuhar immediately began looking for her next global learning opportunity. When a friend first told her about an internship with the Institute of Aviation in Warsaw, Poland, Kuhar was apprehensive about committing to a three-month program. It turned out to not only be a great resume builder and cultural exchange, but the hands-on experience she gained working with jet engines helped Kuhar realize that she wants to work in propulsion in the future.

“It was definitely the easiest way to learn about Poland and Polish people,” she said. “Comparing it to my study abroad, living there for three months was a much deeper experience.”

Noah Portman, an environmental engineer who graduated in December 2017, went abroad three times while in college. The summer after his freshman year he represented Ohio State on an Engineers Without Borders trip to China where he conducted field assessments in a rural village related to hygiene, sanitation, health and water. He also visited Israel twice.

Noah Portman visited Israel twice as an Ohio State student.

Portman completed a semester-long sustainable development program at Ben Gurion University, taking courses in natural resource management, Middle East diplomacy, Israeli culture and Hebrew, among others. Last summer he returned to Israel for an internship with an agritech startup company in Jerusalem that focuses on improving sustainability of chicken hatcheries. He also conducted research on a site in southern Israel with an Ohio State professor.

Portman said that those opportunities opened up a door for him to use his engineering skills abroad. “If I am hired by a company to do it or if I have to create a company to do it, then so be it. The Global Option definitely opened my eyes to that being a possibility. Sometimes you have to leave the comfort of your home to see those opportunities that you didn’t know were there.”

A passport to jobs

Students who complete the program receive an Engineering Global Option distinction on their transcript. It’s something that can differentiate graduates from their peers and lead to job offers.

“When an employer or graduate school sees something like this on the transcript, it tells them this is a structured program that the College of Engineering has put its weight behind,” Hempson said.Having an understanding of that dimension of your profession makes you more marketable, gives you more job opportunities and allows you to see some pretty interesting places.”

Highly recommended for students who wish to work internationally, in today’s globally connected world the program also benefits those who plan to remain in the U.S. throughout their careers.

“Seeing different cultures and how they approach problems, and being able to have that approach when you’re working with people that grew up differently than you is helpful,” said Rachael Schneider, an industrial and systems engineering major.

After working on a solar energy project in Haiti with the Solar Education and Outreach club, Schneider was asked by the faculty advisor to return the following year as the trip’s student leader. She also worked on a water filtration project as part of the Ghana service-learning trip. Those diverse experiences not only taught her about international project planning and execution from start to finish, they also helped her land a job at Whirlpool. Set to graduate in May, Schneider will begin working in the company’s Manufacturing Leadership Development Program this summer.

Rachael Schneider helps slide a solar panel into place on the roof of a Haitian school during a 2016 spring break trip with the Solar Education and Outreach club.

“Whirlpool especially wanted to see some sort of international or diversity and inclusion element in your resume because that’s really important to them,” she said. “That was definitely one of the things that made me a good candidate.”

Now a civil engineer in CH2MHill’s Water/Wastewater Sector, Rachel DuBois also believes that the Global Option designation was a key factor in her selection for her current role.

“One of the things they focused on in my interview was my international experiences and defining the Global Option designation,” she said. “It was something that made me stand out from other candidates and helped me show my employer how I could handle unique circumstances, and go above and beyond typical engineering.”

by Candi Clevenger, College of Engineering Communications, clevenger.87@osu.edu