Born in Connecticut, Trained at UConn,What magic ingredients turn UConn engineering students into graduates with international training, foreign language skills and business savvy in a foreign culture?
Sought by Global Economy
The answer is talent and hard work, certainly, but also a unique and challenging academic program that marks them as highly motivated, global and sophisticated, a combination that U.S. and foreign companies are finding more and more desirable.
Eurotech is a rigorous five-year program developed by UConn's School of Engineering and College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, that leads to a dual degree, a B.A. degree in German studies and a B.S. degree in engineering. It also includes summer internships with industrial corporations in Connecticut, and a minimum six month-long internship with either a German corporation or an American corporation in Germany.
Among the students involved, few deny the challenge of the program, but enthusiasm for what is in store is far greater. Acknowledging some of his peers "think I'm a glutton for punishment," David Lovendale, a freshman engineering student, notes: "being fluent in another language and knowledgeable about culture, whether I ever use it in the workplace, is something that will definitely put me ahead."
More than 100 German-based companies in the state, plus a number of American companies with subsidiaries in Germany, are the driving force behind the program's aim to produce engineers who can bridge the gap. Beyond fluency in conversational and technical German, the emphasis is on graduating people who are culturally sensitive to working overseas or with their counterparts here, a skill of growing importance in a global economy.
"Eurotech strengthens Connecticut's competitive edge in the global economy by significantly increasing the pool of college graduates with intercultural and foreign language skills," says Tricia Bergman, co-director of the Eurotech program. "Enhancing Connecticut as an investment partner for German companies increases the state's access to German-speaking markets."
For the expanding Eastern European market, German is the language of commerce, she notes. There are more than 1,000 U.S. companies with subsidiaries in Germany and the country ranks as America's fifth largest trading partner, she adds.
"We get calls from companies asking us how many students we expect to graduate, and how many they can have," says Friedemann Weidauer, an assistant professor of German, the other co-director of Eurotech. The only frustration is that "the demand is greater than the supply," he says.
From the start, participants learn German in special classes designed to take into account their interest in math, science and engineering.
The internships are the centerpiece of the program. Every other year, students take a study trip to Germany for on-site tours of companies where they might do an internship. There is also an option to extend the German internship for an additional six months, or study advanced German at one of several universities there, with credits transferable to UConn.
"For a student to go to Germany costs about the same as one semester of study at UConn," says Renate Seitz, who coordinates German student exchange programs for the state Department of Higher Education. One of the programs she directs that helps provide scholarships to Eurotech students is the Baden-Wurttemberg/ Connecticut Exchange Program.
Baden-Wurttemberg, third largest of Germany's 16 states, is the center of major automotive, electronic and biomedical industries and home to some of Europe's oldest and finest universities, including Heidelberg, Freiburg and Tubingen. Seitz notes that the state's parliament annually awards $100,000 worth of scholarship grants and tuition waivers to students in special programs such as Eurotech. "The beauty of Eurotech is that students can study abroad, work on their language skills, cultivate cross-cultural sensitivities and burnish their technical know-how - all on scholarship," she says.
To ensure that the program meets the needs of Connecticut industry, administrators of Eurotech have invited representatives and executives of U.S. and German firms to join an advisory board that oversees the program.
Gottfried Kuesters, president of Enfield-based PTR-Precision Technologies Inc., a member of the board, has actively supported the program since its inception seven years ago.
"Students who finish Eurotech are really sought after," says Kuesters. "They are writing their own tickets - with starting salaries that by no means could they have gotten if they didn't go through the program."
Recruiting through New England and New York, as well as in-state, is helping to build interest.
The challenge is getting high school students to think long-term and take the extra step, Weidauer says. "At that age, very few can convince themselves that once done they will be in a much better position, able to communicate and work in two cultures."