AU engineering goes global

Published: Aug 3, 2009 1:00:00 AM
Media Contact: Annie Gilbertson,

Source: The Auburn Villager

Team Spain Students

Team Spain students view a project

Upon arriving last spring, one of the first things new Auburn University provost Mary Ellen Mazey did was encourage development of programs to promote the international skills of students. She also asked colleges to create cross-cultural learning experiences. The Samuel Ginn College of Engineering was already ahead of the game, however, having established Global Education Initiatives last year.

Now Auburn's engineering program is not only helping initiate change on campus, but throughout the region.

Five Auburn students recently traveled to Spain during the first-of-its-kind summer program, called Engineering, Technology and Society-Spain, and recruited students from the University of Arkansas, the University of Alabama and Vanderbilt University to join them for a month-long stay in Pamplona.

Having returned to the Plains only weeks ago, program coordinator Nick Conrad said the trip was a huge success and students would go again next year.

Conrad even met with the mayor, vice mayor and business council of Pamplona and was asked to pursue a sister city relationship with Auburn.

He said Pamplona, known foremost for encierro, or the running of the bulls, is ideal for engineering students to explore because the area offers dozens of state-of-the-art renewable energy production sites.

Although the students left the weekend before the city of 200,000 swelled with a million bull-run tourists, Auburn student Rachel Depriest said participants received an enriching cultural experience.

In addition to attending 100 Spanish lessons (five hours a day) at the Pamplona Learning Spanish Institute, students enjoyed tours of facilities such as a wind farm and water treatment plant and discovered Spanish culture through activities like salsa dancing.

Vanderbilt student Ekow Ankumah said he was surprised by the variety of energy sources used in the province of Navarre. Such diversity in a small geographic area is unusual in the U.S., he said.

Ankumah was one of many students who rented rooms from local families. While living with a mother and son, Ankumah practiced his Spanish speaking and got acquainted with Spanish customs such as dinner at 10 p.m.

"The son showed us around and introduced us to his friends," added Ankumah. "We didn't feel like tourists then, just like we were hanging out with our friends."

Ankumah said he felt more prepared for a global market after the trip and said his Spanish skills and practice communicating with those from other cultures would set him apart from most engineering graduates.

Depriest said engineering students also gained valuable insight into how their discipline functions in other countries through group research projects, which can be viewed at

To learn more about Global Initiatives, go to and look under academic programs. To see the Provost's International Skills Taskforce summary report, visit

Rachel Depriest contributed to this article.