Cultural Enrichment, Career Options, Networking Among Benefits
Studying abroad in Brazil during the Thanksgiving break from classroom studies at Cal State Fullerton, Yuliana Carrillo saw what is possible for her career and more. The experience opened her eyes to opportunities she never thought of pursuing and exposed her to a culture and to welcoming people who uplifted her.
It was the first time the future civil engineer had traveled to another country outside of North America. She made new Brazilian friends, toured a beverage manufacturing plant, attended a lecture on recycling technologies and visited an orphanage, where meeting a young girl was a heartwarming encounter.
The learning experience also introduced Carrillo to different career opportunities within the engineering disciplines, including those abroad.
“I also met professionals who inspired everyone to do well in school and follow their career goals,” she said.
Carrillo, who is fluent in both Spanish and Engish, was among 15 undergraduate and graduate-level engineering and computer science students from CSUF who traveled to the state of São Paulo to the Universidade Estadual Paulista, Sorocaba campus, for the International Symposium on Engineering Research. The Nov. 21-25 program was funded, in part, by a “100,000 Strong in the Americas Innovation Fund” grant, with support from the CSUF College of Engineering and Computer Science and the Office of International Programs and Global Engagement.
“The biggest benefit for students is that it broadened their horizons of engineering practice and engineering education in a global context, which is often difficult to visualize in a classroom setting,” said Beena Ajmera, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering, who co-led the group of students.
“Programs like this have a substantial impact in helping students improve both their technical and soft skills, increase their success as professionals in a world that is becoming increasingly collaborative, and in communities that are very diverse.”
Faculty co-leader Binod Tiwari, professor of civil and environmental engineering and director of the International Symposium on Engineering Research, added that collaborating with peers from another country broadens not only students’ knowledge, but also their insights about the world.
“Moreover, understanding culture of another country is always important for students’ personal growth,” he added.
During the weeklong program, CSUF students presented their research projects to their Brazilian counterparts, while getting the chance to attend research presentations made by Brazilian professors and industry leaders on various sectors of STEM education.
“These presentations not only exposed our students to different branches of engineering, but also how these branches are interconnected and co-dependent,” noted Ajmera. “They also learned about the challenges that are faced by the country, as well as globally, and what is being done to address these challenges in the context of the available resources and strengths.”
Students also toured large-scale manufacturing companies — including a plant that makes parts for windmills to generate energy — to help them to understand the globalization in manufacturing industries, and attended lectures on such topics as sustainability and Brazilian energy sources.
Other activities included exploring popular sites and visiting a local orphanage, where the students planted trees with children and taught them the importance of caring for and protecting the environment.
Mathematics major Trini Bao Chau Nguyen, who is pusuing a minor in computer science and aspires to become an applied mathematics professor, said the experience gave her an insightful view to careers she hadn’t considered.
“Aside from learning how the rest of the world operates in your field, participating in study-abroad programs allows you the chance to go outside your comfort zone and learn what you are capable of doing,” said Nguyen, a scholar in the university’s Maximizing Access to Research Careers (MARC) program.