Gaining global experience
In today's global market place, companies are increasing efforts to attract and hire engineering and business management graduates with overseas academic and business experience. This is one reason why more and more students are engaging in Kettering University's Study Abroad Program.
Kettering graduate Hong Weng isn't shy about how she landed her first engineering job with American Axel soon after her 2005 graduation from the University.
"Because of my international experience through the Study Abroad Program," she said, adding, "I would say it is 100 percent of the reason why I received the offer."
Weng was born and grew up in China, and since she fluently speaks Cantonese and Mandarin, as well as English, the company, American Axel, wanted to hire her to work on projects associated with the booming Asian markets. "I think that companies feel it's critical that engineers and employees in general know about other cultures, because it helps them be more open-minded about that customer base," she said. Today, Weng is a noise and vibration development engineer at GM's Milford Proving Grounds in Milford, Mich.
For Giancarlo Taylor, director of Kettering's Study Abroad Program, Weng's story is one that is growing more and more familiar. He expresses little surprise when discussing how well received the program is by Kettering students. After Sept. 11, 2001, Taylor explained that the program experienced a slight decrease in the number of students traveling abroad to study for a term because parents were worried about security issues. At that time, Kettering averaged approximately 60 students studying overseas each year.
"Fortunately, our numbers rebounded from Sept. 11, 2001. Today, we're close to sending about 90 students a year to study overseas," Taylor explained. The reasons for this increase are due to the development of new courses, housing and the participation of more faculty in the program. "Our partner schools run excellent programs and the American kids are treated well, are taught in English and classes are very relevant to their studies and careers," he added. "Kettering students receive exposure to things they wouldn't normally get a chance toexperience in America, like the Porsche test track. They meet students from other schools and really just have a rich experience overseas traveling, studying and learning about new cultures. They travel and see places they've only read about. I rarely hear a disparaging word about student experience during a study abroad term."
Taylor also noted that another reason more students are expressing an interest in the Study Abroad Program is that companies are in desperate need of professionals experienced with cultures in different parts of the world. This represents a unique opportunity for Kettering grads: with more than two years of on-the-job professional co-op experience, combined with a term or two studying abroad, graduates are able to fill important roles within companies much more quickly than a traditional graduate from a traditional university engineering program without overseas experience.
Another reason for the growing interest is that the level of support provided to the program from alumni and administration is increasing. For example, Taylor noted that Kettering President Stan Liberty is a strong advocate for students engaging in overseas experiences. In May 2005, alumnus and current Board of Trustee Member Bob Oswald '64, chairman of Bendix Commercial Vehicle Systems LLC, contributed $1 million to the program to support faculty and student travel, enhance current programming and help develop new opportunities with partner institutions. "We hope this funding helps us grow the program further," Taylor said.
This, he observed, is critical for future generations of engineers and business managers. Ultimately, he feels Study Abroad could become an important requirement of all students one day, since the world of business and technology is dominated by the impact of the global economy. To support this idea, he pointed to the visit last November by Mr. Gunter H. Oettinger, minister president of the State of Baden-Wurttemberg (the equivalent of Governor Granholm) to Kettering to promote the partner program between the University and German institutions. And for the students, word-of-mouth is creating more interest as well. "Our students receive full credit for their study abroad term, a $1500 stipend to help with costs and the chance to see Europe. And there are many opportunities to see lots of places already built into the program, so if students do not want to pay extra to travel to additional destinations, they don't have to, since they already have chances to do some traveling through the program," Taylor said. "They talk with friends when they return home and those friends often come to me to find out how they can participate. This is why we're seeing increases in the numbers of students who wish to travel and study abroad."
And students quickly learn how essential this experience is in a very direct and professionally meaningful way. Mark Drotleff, a Kettering graduate and Design Release Engineer for ZF Steering Systems NACAM Corp. based in southeast, Michigan, said, "My experience as an exchange student to Germany was a key factor in being hired by my current employer, ZF Steering Systems Nacam Corp. ZF is German-based company with divisions in Europe, Asia, and the Americas. Since I spent a semester abroad, ZF knew that I would be capable of adapting to other cultures and communicating effectively with colleagues in other locations. I have been working for ZF for more than nine months now and have made two trips to a ZF facility in Vendome, France. I highly recommend studying abroad. It's a great experience and will help prepare students for employment opportunities with international companies."
On the faculty side, a number of professors continue to support Study Abroad efforts by encouraging students to take opportunities to see other parts of the world and learn from faculty at different institutions. Some of the Kettering faculty who are heavily involved in helping to support the program include Luchen Li, associate professor of Liberal Studies; Raghu Echempati, professor of Mechanical Engineering; Mohammed Torfeh, professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering; John Lorenz, vice president of Academic Affairs and provost; Celia Bandl, director of International Programs, who helps with incoming international students; and Kenya Ayers, associate vice president for Academic Affairs and vice provost.
Written by Gary J. Erwin