Eleven students and one faculty member spent five weeks in Paris this summer for an introductory course on engineering thermodynamics, part of efforts by the Office of International Programs to expand study abroad opportunities at Colorado School of Mines.
“The idea of studying abroad for a full semester can be intimidating, particularly for students who have never traveled outside the U.S.,” said Mary Cook, director for education abroad at Mines. “This type of experience provides an opportunity to check out how it is to live in a new country and culture with the assurance they have not made a long-term commitment.”
Another hurdle is fitting study abroad into the fall or spring semester, according to Rachel Morrish, teaching associate professor of chemical and biological engineering, who taught the course. “There can be some apprehension going abroad to learn from an unknown faculty with unknown students. This allowed students to learn from a Mines faculty along with other Mines students and earn Mines credit.”
Cook said many students who study abroad short term gain the confidence to tackle a full semester or academic year in another country at a later point in their college experience.
Introduction to Engineering Thermodynamics was chosen because it’s required for several degrees—the class was a mix of chemical, mechanical and environmental engineering majors. The course is usually taken after students’ freshman or sophomore years, when summer internships are less common, making the timing ideal.
Any student who met the course prerequisites was welcome to enroll, and Mines established a reduced study abroad tuition rate to make the program more affordable.
The class included some special touches because of its location. “We incorporated the contributions of French scientists such as Sadi Carnot, Blaise Pascal and Antoine Lavoisier into the curriculum,” Morrish said. The class also toured the Musée des Arts et Métiers to see historical scientific instruments and visited the Pont de Normandie cable bridge in northern France.
“It was one of the greatest experiences of my life—I got to eat crepes every day and picnic in front of the Eiffel Tower,” said Madison Hettich, a chemical engineering major. “In all seriousness, though, it was a life-changing experience that gave me a newfound sense of direction in my educational and career goals. I believe that immersing yourself in another culture is one of the best ways to understand the global issues we discuss in class, and to be able to better address these issues when we graduate.”
“Part of what made it fun was that it was a small group of Mines students,” said Andrea Gonzalez, a mechanical engineering major. “We got pretty close and were able to explore the city and do some weekend traveling together.” The students attended class four days a week, and the condensed format meant they could finish homework and ask questions right after, leaving plenty of time to explore France and even visit other countries.
“Since Paris is a hub for trains, we were able to go somewhere new every weekend,” Gonzalez said. “And of course, the food was amazing.”
The Office of International Programs plans to hold the “Thermo in Paris” class again next summer and beyond. Electrical engineering and computer science courses will be held in Maynooth, Ireland, in the summer of 2020, and a joint program with Purdue in Kenya is a possibility, Cook said. “We are confident faculty-led summer study abroad programs will continue to grow and thrive.”