Student Exchange Program Sends Engineers Packing By Ken Keatley You may expect Michael Lopez, who is just two semesters away from earning two degrees in electrical engineering at Hopkins, to spend his summer in a laboratory. What you may not expect is the location of that lab: the Integrated Circuits Lab at the University of Ljubljana, in a small European city of the same name in Slovenia, thousands of miles from home. "I wanted to visit Europe, and I needed some practical experience in engineering," said Lopez, 20, of Stony Brook, N.Y. "So this trip covered both needs for me. I would recommend the program to any engineering student." The program is the School of Engineering's 3-year-old student exchange with Austria and its neighbor, the Republic of Slovenia. This summer 25 engineering students spent six weeks working as paid interns in Austrian companies or Slovenian university laboratories. Last week their counterparts--20 Austrian and Slovenian students--arrived in Baltimore to spend six weeks of classroom and lab study at Hopkins. A reception in their honor is being held at Nichols House Tuesday from 3 to 5 p.m. Jack Fisher, a professor in the Department of Geography and Environmental Engineering and organizer of the exchange program, said the Hopkins students grow personally and professionally through the summer sojourn. "The program is unique in that it takes these graduate and undergraduate students and has them working as engineers," Dr. Fisher said. "They're experiencing the history and culture of the countries, but the main focus is on the work." That's especially important, according to Dean Don Giddens, because of the ongoing need for engineers who have the flexibility to work in a global environment. "Many positions available to engineers in the future will be with companies which have a global outlook, and we want to offer opportunities for our graduates which will help them be prepared," said Dr. Giddens, who visited the students in Europe last summer. "The students in our international program don't just take courses abroad. They get hands-on experience in a foreign company or research lab." It was former Dean David VandeLinde's belief that engineering students need to be prepared to work in an increasingly international marketplace. Dr. Giddens, his successor, is committed to pursuing that effort. Dr. Fisher, who became involved because of his professional ties to the Ministry of Science and Technology in Slovenia, shares that commitment. "Because of the highly theoretical orientation at Hopkins, many of the students have found this pragmatic experience to be quite useful," Dr. Fisher explained. "Many have said that for the first time, they know what it means to be an engineer." The Hopkins students are very much in demand, especially in Austria where they are put to work in a "real world" setting. Andy Arluk, 21, of Gaithersburg, Md., a graduate student in electrical engineering, has worked for the last two summers at Anton Paar, an Austrian manufacturer of scientific equipment. "I got to see firsthand how a company operates, and was exposed to their clients--international firms from all over the world," said Arluk, who wrote and implemented a computer program linking two of the firm's departments. "I'm seriously thinking of going to Europe to work for a few years." Added Dr. Fisher, "We're sending them some of our very best students, and they are contributing. The companies really do get something out of it." Lopez, who is now back at the Image Analysis and Communications Lab at Hopkins, worked in digital signal processing for a Slovenian researcher over the summer. "Overall, I found the work to be good experience, something different but in the same general field as my research at Hop-kins," Lopez said. "I was able to help out in a real way. It's a good example of Dr. Fisher's theory that engineers who have a little general preparation can go into an unfamiliar situation and be of good use." Joanna Mroz, 20, a junior from Succasunna, N.J., in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering, was also happy with her research into methods of repulping paper at the Institute of Pulp and Paper in Ljubljana. "I've just recently transferred to engineering, so the practical lab experience was very helpful to me. It gave me an idea of what I could be doing in the future," Mroz said. "Plus, on the weekends, we had an incredible time taking trips all over Europe." Lopez said time outside the lab was well spent. On weekend outings with his Hopkins colleagues, or members of the International Students Organization in Ljubljana, he visited Venice, Vienna, Graz, the bucolic countryside in southeast Slovenia and two mountaintop resorts. "Slovenia is not a place I would have gotten to see otherwise, and I'm glad I had the experience," Lopez said. "And coming away with the knowledge that I can work in a different setting is good for me."
Go to Gazette Homepage