When sophomore civil engineering major Abby Niesen was attending orientation freshman year, she sat down and was handed a blue piece of paper. On it was a list of all the classes she needed to take over the next four years, and the suggested order in which she to take them. It is a simple formula that Tufts provides to help engineering students graduate on time, and most students stick to this plan. But Niesen is diverging from this path −− she wants to study abroad in Australia.
“The very first thing I said to my advisor was ‘Hi, I’m Abby, and I want to go abroad,’” Niesen said. “She told me I could wait a little to figure it out considering it was the first day of orientation.”
Although trying to organize a semester abroad on the first day of orientation may be excessive, Niesen was responding to the common notion on campus that studying abroad as an engineering student is a difficult thing to do.
“There’s a stigma on campus that going abroad as an engineer is really difficult, although I think people think it’s more difficult that it actually is,” Niesen said.
Many engineering students are put off by the complications they face when trying to study abroad. Civil engineer Ian O’Malley, a sophomore, entertained the idea of foreign study but felt that his options were limited,and that the process was going to be more pain than it was worth.
“I was interested in going abroad because I think it would be a great experience, but there’s only two Tufts programs that engineers can really participate in: Hong Kong and London,” O’Malley said. “I’m also taking such specialized classes, so I felt it would be difficult to stay on track while studying abroad.”
Associate Dean of Undergraduate Education and Director of Programs Abroad Sheila Bayne explained the participation of engineering students in the Hong Kong and London programs.
“Very few engineers go abroad to countries where [natives] don’t speak English,” Bayne said. “Language is not a requirement for engineers, so there are not many students that can take classes to [a high] level in a different language.”
Chemical engineering major Faith Wilson, a sophomore, felt similarly about the process at first, though she was pleasantly surprised by how simple it was to go abroad once she decided to go through with it.
“I had just put it from my mind. I didn’t even think it was really an accessible possibility,” Wilson said. “But as soon as I actually looked into going abroad, it became clear that it’s totally possible.” She is now applying to University College London and University of Edinburgh.
The process is easier than its reputation indicates, but it remains especially important that engineering students get organized as early as possible if they decide to go abroad, according to Brian Libby, the foreign study advisor for non−Tufts programs.
“Engineers just need to look into it and start thinking about it a little bit earlier. I wouldn’t say it’s necessarily difficult for engineers to go abroad, but it requires a little more preparation and a little bit more research,” he said.
The application process for engineers who want to study abroad is identical to that of liberal arts students, provided they choose a Tufts program, although they need a 3.2 GPA to be eligible. To participate in a non−Tufts program, engineering students must complete a petition.
“The engineering school here at Tufts grants ABET−accredited degrees, which is the Accreditation Board in Engineering and Technology,” Libby said. “The petition ensures that if an engineering student is studying abroad, they are still going to graduate on time and with a degree that is ABET−accredited.”
“The engineering petition is really easy,” Wilson said. “Tufts is actually really great about making sure that you won’t fall behind.”
Engineering students participating in non−Tufts programs also have to pay close attention to the courses that are offered at the universities they consider, as each course must be approved through WebCenter to ensure that the credit can be transferred towards their degree. This is where the process gets slightly more complicated.
“Engineering students need to take some very specific courses, unlike students in liberal arts, who have a number of requirements that can be satisfied in a lot of different ways,” Bayne said. “Since the students have to find exact equivalents for the courses that they will take, it is more difficult for engineers.”
It is also for this reason that most engineering students elect to go abroad for only one semester. Although the Office of Programs Abroad encourages most students to go abroad for a year if possible, engineering students are not encouraged to do so.
“I met with [Associate] Dean [of Engineering Kim] Knox and said that I wanted to go for the whole year. Dean Knox replied, ‘I don’t know if you can do that. I don’t know if that’s possible,’” Wilson said.
However, determination and a summer spent taking organic chemistry meant that Wilson was able to apply to be abroad for the whole year. In fact, she thinks it might actually be easier for engineers to be gone for this long.
“Reactor design we normally take second semester, but in Edinburgh it’s going to be first semester — but it works out because I’m there for the full year,” Wilson said. “I think going for the full year is almost easier.”
Libby encourages this enthusiasm for going abroad.
“We like to see engineers going abroad, and I think it’s a great experience for any student,” Libby said. “I would hate to deter students from doing so. We just have to make sure the student is staying on track and that’s in the student’s interest.”
Engineering students may have even more reason to study abroad than liberal arts students, as their college career is a time of freedom before they embark on a very specific career path.
“Something drew me into Australia because it’s all the way on the other side of the world and I knew nothing about it,” Niesen said. “When else are you going to be able to go there, you know?”
Wilson was just as enthusiastic as she discussed the possibility of going to Edinburgh.
“I want to go abroad to really get the experience of living in another culture while I can be taking classes at the same time,” she said. “It’s so accessible and easy to do right now, and I really want to take advantage of that.”
For engineering students who want to go abroad, possibilities are opening up, and Libby has high hopes for growing opportunities overseas.
“I think in international education and study abroad there will be more engineering programs made available in the future,” he said. “I think there is a push to get these students abroad, and it can only increase.”