UTEP’s College of Engineering International Peru Program Offers an Enriching Virtual Experience
Anahy Diaz | September 8, 2020
The University of Texas at El Paso and The Universidad de Piura’s (UDEP) annual Global and Regional Sustainable Engineering international program, offered engineering students from both institutions an enriching virtual experience this summer.
Since 2013, UTEP’s College of Engineering has partnered with UDEP, to provide undergraduate and graduate students with a global experience by traveling to Peru and joining UDEP students to take the course titled: “Global and Regional Sustainable Engineering,” led by both universities’ faculty and staff members.
“Students learn to appreciate how engineering is practiced in other countries. They learn and practice the soft skills needed to be successful engineers in a global market: adaptability, tolerance, innovation, bilingual communication, ability to function in a multidisciplinary and multinational team,” said Carlos Ferregut, Ph.D., professor and department chair of civil engineering and part of the UTEP faculty leading the program.
Typically, the first part of the program starts with an average of 15 Peruvian students traveling to El Paso and in the second part of the program, the same number of UTEP students, on average, travel to Piura, Peru. This form of delivering faculty led study abroad programs at UTEP is an innovative and mutually beneficial way for students, from both universities, to embark in an international experience.
This year, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the program switched to a virtual format and was the only study abroad opportunity offered at UTEP over the summer. Despite the changes and challenges brought by the pandemic, UTEP and UDEP focused their efforts on providing an enriching and dynamic virtual learning experience for participants.
The virtual exchange experience provided 31 students from El Paso and Piura, a broader perspective in approaching the complexity involved in the application of sustainability principles to solve infrastructure problems. The 8-week long program featured a series of workshops led by both universities’ faculty and community members that discussed topics such as the emerging mobility trend and digitization of transportation, nature-based solutions for managing urban water and sustainability and project management for smart cities.
“The Global Sustainable Engineering and International Leadership Practices course has opened my eyes and mind much more than a textbook or exam can offer,” said Isaac Esteban Zuñiga, a UTEP senior majoring in civil engineering. “I have learned from true professionals how smart cities are developed and managed. How different engineering practices are evolving to meet the demands and needs of the communities they serve.”
Lectures were accompanied by weekly cultural activities aimed to engage students while providing knowledge of both communities. This included presentations about the borderland, virtual visits to El Paso and Peruvian museums, presentations about graduate education, a marinera dance workshop and a karaoke and Kahoot night.
“As future engineers and professionals, we seek to make our city a better place for future generations and this program has taught us all the tools we need to achieve this goal,” said Alejandra Nicole Valderrama García, an industrial, manufacturing and systems engineering student at UDEP. “We have also learned more about our culture and the culture of the city of our colleagues, El Paso, through activities that allowed us to interact despite the distance.”
Students were also encouraged to learn from one another by creating videos showcasing them cooking "lomo saltado," a traditional Peruvian dish, with an ingredient from a typical Texan meal. A compilation of these videos was later shown at the closing ceremony, where students and faculty reflected back on the experience.
“The level of learning obtained in sustainable engineering topics was very high. In each session one could gain new insights into the innovations that are being made in smart cities.” said Raoul Edoardo Salas, a civil engineering student at UTEP. “The course has opened my eyes in a very impactful way, since it has shown me the work that is currently being done to be able to offer stability to future generations.”
The program, which was originally funded through a $225, 000 grant from the United States Department of State, has gone on to become a leading model for other faculty-led programs at UTEP’s College of Engineering that have adopted the same two-way format.
“This program is unique in many ways. It is the flagship study-abroad program in the College of Engineering,” Ferregut said. “I am very thankful to all of my colleagues at UTEP and UDEP that have been involved and contributed to the program all of these years.”
As of summer 2020, the Global and Regional Sustainable Engineering program has imparted its learning tools to a total of 65 UDEP students and 101 UTEP students.