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UT College of Engineering Students Enjoy International Trips

Two trips organized by the College of Engineering (COE) allowed participating students to experience engineering internationally during the spring of 2013. COE International Coordinator Judith Mallory oversaw an “Alternative Spring Break” in Cartago, Costa Rica, and an end-of-semester visit to Madrid, Spain.

Cartago, Costa Rica

Mallory accompanied nine students—Faith Frye, Avik Purkayastha, Vick Singh, Matt Loyd, Victoria Vest, Emma Hollman, Megan Ferell, Kylie White, and Michelle Morin—to Cartago in March for service projects each morning and cultural activities in the afternoons. The group stayed in a small dormitory-like facility with a daytime staff, including local cooks, and a night watchman.

The students divided their time between two orphanages for the daily service projects. The first location is a long-term home to more than 100 children. They live on a gated “campus” in individual homes with women who act as mother figures. The children attend school in the community.

The other location is a home in an urban setting with thirteen children who live there on a temporary basis. They have two “tias” (“aunts”) on staff to take care of them.

COE students conducted science and engineering experiments in the children’s classrooms. These included paper airplane competitions and making homemade play-dough (which the children had never seen), straw rockets, tin foil boats, and volcanoes. The demonstrations went well and were enjoyed by the resident children.

Costa Rica VolcanoThe group also had two small building projects at each location. At the campus facility, COE students constructed a small stage for use in an outdoor gymnasium. The materials were mostly recycled, and there were no power tools. Students discussed the design and alternated working on the stage and engaging in experiments with the children at the facility. In this way, all could participate in both activities.

At the second location, the tias had requested a fence to protect a vegetable garden. Again, with no power tools and less-than-ideal materials, they designed and constructed the fence. The garden was also widened and cleaned up in the process.

Cultural activities in Costa Rica included a walking tour of the city, a visit to the artisans’ market and produce/meat market, a dance class, two Spanish language lessons, a visit to the Irazu volcano, shown above right, and a trip to the rain forest of the Tapanti National Park.

Basilica de Nuestra Señora de los AngelesThe trip took place during the week prior to Easter. Since many Costa Ricans are Catholic, Easter-related activities were abundant, including processions and re-enactments. Cartago is also the site of the most significant basilica in Central America, Basilica de Nuestra Señora de los Angeles (Our Lady of the Angels Basilica), shown at right, where thousands of people make a pilgrimage each August.

The COE students took time each evening to debrief and discuss the days’ activities and impressions.

Madrid, Spain

COE students Zachary Wood, Kevin Gayler, and Jason McDonald participated in the trip to Madrid, Spain, from May 11 to 18 at the end of the spring semester. The Council on International Education Exchange (CIEE) served as the provider for the trip.

At least two CIEE staff members were available to the UT group around the clock during the stay in Madrid. The students each had home-stay accommodations, where two meals per day were provided. CIEE does extensive screening in the selection of the native Spanish hosts, who are generally people in their thirties or forties.

Madrid Bike TourThe group began its visit with a welcome dinner with CIEE staff and hosts at a restaurant serving traditional Spanish cuisine. The next day began with a travel orientation that emphasized safety, and included a walking tour of Madrid.

On the Monday of the visit, the UT group visited the Universidad Carlos III Madrid in Leganes. A PhD student there lectured on structures and her own research.

COE students returned to the campus on the following Wednesday to tour the labs and hear another lecture on materials. Later, the group went with two of the CIEE staff members on a three-hour bike ride. The ride included a visit to one of the largest parks in Europe, which is constructed over the top of a highway. Afterward, they attended a lecture on alternative energy sources, given by a Spanish engineer/entrepreneur.

Madrid Aqueduct 2013The next day’s excursion was to the quaint town of Segovia. The COE group viewed aqueducts, shown at right, constructed in the first century by the Romans, as well as the Castle of Queen Isabella’s Court, erected in the twelfth century.

On the way to Segovia, the group visited the Instituto Nacional de Tecnica Aerospacial (INTA), a contingent of NASA. Its budget of more than €150 million comes from the Spanish Ministry of Defense and from its own projects with the industry. INTA has around 1,200 employees, 80% of them dedicated to research and development activities. One of the secure areas visited was a hanger-like structure housing scientists and engineers who design and build unmanned craft used in drone strikes. Several of these were on display.

At the site’s astrobiology facility, a scientist showed the group a lab replicating rivers believed to have once been present on Mars. INTA had one-third scale models of the Mars Rover and other craft used in space exploration.

Students were free to go out on their own on the Friday during their stay, and the visit ended with an Andalusia night and dinner featuring Flamenco dancers. The trip was an excellent exposure to Spanish culture with a strong emphasis on engineering in another country.