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Ethan Coloma at the Great Wall of China
November 2, 2018

Badgers without borders: MS&E students abroad

Written By: Sam Million-Weaver

Today’s global economy means more opportunities than ever for engineers to work in diverse teams and in far-flung locations.

International experience gives graduates a leg up when they enter the job market, and MS&E students continue to take full advantage of opportunities to go abroad.

“As engineers, we all learn the technical aspects of whatever field we are in,” says Ethan Coloma, a senior graduating in 2019 who spent summer 2017 in Hangzhou, China. “Being abroad makes us more aware of how global engineering is.”

Roughly 11 percent of students in the College of Engineering embark upon international experiences each year.

That’s more than double the national average—and it speaks to the support students receive from the college.

“Students who study abroad also stay on track in their degree,” says Amanda Hammatt, director of the college’s international engineering studies and programs. “The reason we have an international office is to facilitate opportunities for engineering students to take engineering courses abroad.”

And those courses truly are top-notch.

“It was a productive use of time, while still being able to travel,” says Emily Proehl, a senior graduating in December 2019 who spent spring 2018 in Hamburg, Germany.

During her semester in Germany, Proehl completed five courses, including classes on fuel cells, analytical chemistry, photovoltaics and feedback controls—all of which satisfied her degree requirements.

 Austin Schenck
Austin Schwark (second from right) in Argentina.

Proehl also took a class on German culture, as a requirement of the international engineering certificate program, during which she and her classmates cooked traditional dishes like labskaus, a delicacy in Hamburg made from mashed up beets and herring.

While abroad, students not only satisfy their coursework and learn about the local culture, they also might do research alongside international colleagues. And learning how to communicate with people from many countries helps our students become better engineers back at home.

“Working in a lab where people spoke different languages helped give me more confidence to figure out what to do when I didn’t really have direction,” says Josh Emory, who spent summer 2017 at Tokyo Technical University in Japan.

Outside of the lab and the classroom, students also gain self-confidence and problem-solving experience by exploring new cities. And even for students who have vacationed overseas before, living in a foreign country opens their eyes to new perspectives.

“Going abroad helped me to be more open-minded and be more outgoing.” says Aaron Tan, who spent summer 2016 at Tokyo Technical University in Japan. “Every week I was traveling and seeing new things.”

And even though Madison’s population of roughly 255,000 is dwarfed by the 9.3 million people living in Tokyo, Japan, or the 2.9 million residents of Buenos Aires, Argentina, engineers like Austin Schwark who study abroad also gain a new appreciation of what it’s like to come back home.

Schwark spent spring 2017 in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and blogged about his experiences at “I brought back a new mindset for the importance of friends and family,” he says.