Encouraging global understanding in engineering through Study Abroad

Casual photo of Peter Meyer standing on the beach in Swansea, Wales
Peter Meyer at the beach in Swansea, Wales

Peter Meyer knew he wanted to study abroad even before starting in CSU’s Chemical and Biological Engineering program in 2016.

Everyone told him to talk with Claire Lavelle, the department’s undergraduate advisor.

Lavelle, who grew up in northern England north of Manchester (yes, Ted Lasso, that Manchester), is a fierce advocate for international experiences. She started looking for those opportunities for her students in 2012 when she noticed they weren’t going abroad.

“Engineering is so global, and it’s really important for students to have as many global experiences as they can,” she said.

The semester at the University of Swansea in South Wales changed his life, Meyer said. No one showed up to his polymer engineering class, so he benefited from one-on-one mentoring with the instructor.

“It taught me not to be afraid and to just do things,” said Meyer, who is now researching polymers as an Iowa State University graduate student. “If you sat at home because you’re scared to try something new, you’re not going to get anything done. Studying abroad is a daily learning experience in ‘how do I solve this problem?’ It really teaches self-reliance and problem-solving skills.”

The Walter Scott, Jr. College of Engineering seems to be doing something right when it comes to supporting international students and encouraging students to study abroad.

A leader in international experiences

In the past two years, the university has recognized three engineering staffers for outstanding service for embracing education abroad and international students. All are undergraduate advisors: Lavelle in CBE, Toni-Lee Viney in Mechanical Engineering, and Deb Misuraca in the School of Biomedical Engineering.

In 2021, CSU’s Education Abroad Advisory Committee selected Lavelle and Viney as its 2020 Partners of the Year for being champions of education abroad. In 2022, the Office of International Programs recognized Misuraca with a Distinguished Service Award for outstanding contributions to the internationalization of CSU.

Celebrate Global Engineering 
Tuesday, November 8
4-6 p.m.
Scott Building Atrium
Casual portrait of Claire Lavelle, Toni-Lee Viney, and Deb Misuraca in the atrium of the Scott Bioengineering Building
Claire Lavelle (left), Toni-Lee Viney (center), and Deb Misuraca (right) have helped create global community in the college.

Lavelle started the trend after she developed the Swansea connection in 2012. By 2017, Misuraca in the School of Biomedical Engineering began planning a student experience in Ecuador. She forged a partnership with a non-profit organization called Range of Motion Project. Students help design and fit prosthetic devices for people with limited income.

The program has been so popular that it has been capped at about 20 students every year except for 2020, the first year of the coronavirus pandemic.

“What’s really impactful is students get to know patients and their stories,” Misuraca said. “They see patients walking for the first time. From start to finish, they get to be involved in that entire process and see the work they’re doing is helping someone, which is why they wanted to get into biomedical engineering.”

Misuraca’s award from International Programs recognized her for initiating the development of two short-term education abroad programs for biomedical students, collaborating with International Programs to identify scholarships, and serving on the education abroad recommended programs committee.

In mechanical engineering, Viney had the opportunity to research engineering education abroad programs as part of a trip with a CSU Education Abroad partner in Italy. In 2018, she worked with the Education Abroad office to create a week-long mechanical engineering bridge seminar in Berlin for first-year students.

Bridging the first-year experience

Students start their introductory mechanical engineering course two weeks early with a week on campus and then a trip to Berlin before classes begin. Once in Germany, students tour engineering projects and experience lectures before returning to Fort Collins. This is one of only three bridge programs offered at CSU starting this year.

Among the Berlin activities, students:

  • Visit industry sites, including the Volkswagen Plant, Berlin Tegel Airport, Radbahn, and the Boreal Light company.
  • Explore historical sites, including the Berlin Wall Memorial on Bernauer Strasse, German National Parliament, a WWII bunker, Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp, and the Futurium museum.
  • Learn from German and international engineering professionals.

“I feel confident saying my college experience would be extremely different and much more difficult without the Berlin trip,” said Gray Woodson, a first-year mechanical engineering student. “Not only did I build strong relationships, but I also rocketed myself ahead of the other folks who didn’t take advantage of the opportunity. I have made lifelong friends with everyone who went, not just the students but everyone. The most memorable experience I had on the trip can’t be summed up in a few words. It truly was an amazing experience.”

“We’re going to keep building off of our experience with Berlin Bridge,” Viney said. “We’re breaking limitations as we go. It also helps immensely that we have partners in Education Abroad who support our efforts.

“Now we’re seeing (other departments) take on more interest and I hope that one day the WSCOE will be a leader in offering these first-year abroad bridge programs,” Viney added. “My department has seen the value of education abroad and how it supports student success. We are seeing first hand how impactful these types of experiences are for students. This gives us the ability to promote these experiences to our students and get them excited about being curious and exploring engineering in a global context.”

Celebrate Global Engineering

Graphic with stylized global landmarks and text reading "Celebrate Global Engineering"

In 2019, Viney, Lavelle and Misuraca organized the first Celebrate Global Engineering event, which also featured cuisine offered by international students in engineering and local restaurants.

“This interlaces students, staff, and faculty who have gone abroad and our international students, staff, and faculty,” Viney said. “It’s another opportunity for our community members to be better humans and step outside their comfort zone.”

Viney, Lavelle and Misuraca have worked to reassure students that they have options to accommodate a semester abroad. “You may need a summer class, but is the summer class worth it to have this experience? And 99 percent of the time, the students say yes,” Lavelle said. “The payoff is we’re not adding a year to their degree; we work hard to find programs that fit into their plan of study.”

For example, Lavelle helped Meyer with a little finagling to his four-year plan to attend Swansea.

Meyer said it was more than that: “She really worked her tail off to bring me the opportunity!”

He also singled out CSU Professors Matt Kipper, Travis Bailey, David Dandy, and Chris Snow, among others, for getting him excited about chemical and biological engineering. The Swansea experience just cemented his interest in going on to graduate school.

“Swansea was extremely fundamental to me because it got me interested in polymers,” he said. “It changed my life.”