Growing Global Leaders programs offer students international perspective
By Leanne Lucas
The Global Leaders program in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE) is a small but growing program that has a big impact in the lives of students. The concept, to provide students with a background in global issues in their chosen field and prepare them for practice in an international arena, has been expanded from its initial implementation in Construction Management to the department’s new cross-disciplinary programs.
Global Leaders in Construction Management (GLCM) began in 2005. The tenth class was admitted in fall 2013, and there are now 51 alumni, 10 working overseas. Brent Young has been the director of GLCM for four years.
“A construction project site can be a very intimidating place,” said Young. “It’s a high-energy culture with a lot of pressure. A student that goes through the full GLCM program meets a huge cross-section of people and visits a variety of sites. That kind of experience, over and over, is what gets the student ready. They get technical instruction in the classroom, but once they see it in the real world, it all makes more sense.”
Students are admitted to the class their senior year and remain with the program two years, through a master’s degree. During that time they make two international trips in January and two domestic trips in March. They also make day trips each semester, so over the course of two years, they visit 20 to 40 construction sites.
In January of 2013, a trip to Turkey gave the students some classic “real-world” experience – roll with the punches. When Young began planning the trip, his focal point was a visit to the construction site of the Marmaray tunnel, a railway tunnel underneath the Bosphorus Strait that creates a link between the Asian and European shores of Istanbul.
“This was an iconic project costing billions of dollars,” said Young, “It was very interesting from a technical point of view, as well as a cultural and historical standpoint. But while we were able to observe an engineering marvel, instruction on the technical details was difficult due to the language barrier.”
Instead, a visit to the Izmit Bay Bridge, a 5,090-foot suspension bridge under construction, became the high point of the trip.
“This bridge will be the fourth longest suspension bridge in the world when it’s finished,” said Young. “We spent a day with that team, and they were amazing. They gave a two-hour technical lecture to the students on building the bridge, then took us out on the site and showed us everything they’d just talked about.”
In January, Young took 15 students to Brazil, where they visited construction sites in Sao Paolo and Rio de Janeiro, with a brief side trip to sightsee and swim in the historic village of Paraty. In Sao Paolo, they toured construction sites for high-rise residential buildings, a new subway line, a soccer stadium and the new Viracopos airport. The group also visited the University of Sao Paolo, where they met with professors and students. The students were surprised to learn that Brazilian engineering students often work full-time in construction while earning their degrees, Young said. While demanding, this gives them a significant amount of work experience before they start practicing engineering, he said.
In Rio de Janeiro, the group visited the exploration office for ExxonMobil and the construction sites for the Olympic Village, Olympic Park and the Porto Maravilha renovation, a project to replace elevated roadways with tunneled roadways. They also toured a shanty town built on the side of a mountain overlooking the city.
“It was very moving and challenging for the students to see how people live when they have to build their own housing without any aid or regulation,” Young said.
The GLCM program receives all of its funding from industry donations, evidence of the program’s success. There are an ever-increasing number of applicants, and the program has 100 percent job placement.
The CEE department’s Sustainable and Resilient Infrastructure Systems (SRIS) program is the first of three new cross-disciplinary programs to implement its own Global Leaders program. Faculty in the SRIS program began the process in 2011. They wrote a proposal and secured funding for planning workshops and trips. Professor Barbara Minsker traveled to India to visit three institutes and Associate Professor Yanfeng Ouyang traveled to China to make contacts there. Based on similar interests and goals in terms of sustainability issues, the team chose to work with the Indian Institute of Technology Madras for their first Global Leaders trip.
Students in the program were required to attend a half-semester class before the trip to learn about sustainability and resilience and Indian culture. They were divided into four teams; two teams worked on projects in transportation and two on projects related to water. They planned and defined the scope of their projects, and learned about Indian culture during visits to local heritage sites. After the trip, each team completed independent study projects, supervised by a faculty member with expertise in that area.
Minsker and Research Assistant Professor Joshua Peschel traveled to Chennai, India, with their students in January 2013. They first toured rainwater harvesting sites with the director of the Chennai Rain Center, to study how problems of water shortages and flooding could be avoided. A trip to the Chennai Metro Rail allowed them to see the challenges of developing an urban rail network in an area that has been built up for more than 1,000 years.
Next, they visited a wastewater treatment plant, where finding a cost-effective solution to the infrastructure corrosion caused by hydrogen sulfide gas was high on the plant’s list of priorities. They also visited the Pallikaranai Marshland, where encroaching development and a massive open dump have led to flooding and water quality problems. A final visit was made to the IITM Intelligent Transportation Systems Laboratory, where work on remote sensing is being done to provide information on traffic conditions to help improve traffic congestion. Each team then worked several days, discussing how the concepts of sustainability and resilience could be integrated into the projects and writing project outlines and problem definitions, which they presented to their fellow students, professors and IITM faculty.
Ouyang and Peschel will head the next trip to Beijing, China, and students from both the SRIS and the cross-disciplinary Energy-Water-Environment Sustainability program will be part of the second Global Leaders class.
“It’s so important for our students to understand how doing civil and environmental engineering in another country is vastly different from the United States,” said Minsker. “They need to have a global perspective. It will make them more attractive to employers, and I think they will be more successful in the long run because they have that exposure.”
She said the program also teaches soft skills, such as writing and giving presentations, working on conflict resolution, and thinking through ethical issues. “I think that will really differentiate these students as they move into their careers.”