Carnegie Mellon University
May 08, 2014

Engineering on a global scale: CEE students spend ten days in China

Engineering on a global scale: CEE students spend ten days in China
There are some things you can’t learn in a classroom. That’s why, this past March, a group of CEE and MechE undergraduates spent their spring break in China. Over the course of ten days, they experienced international engineering and Chinese culture first-hand. 

Faculty and staff in the Mechanical Engineering Department began the trip two years ago as part of an initiative to bolster international opportunities for their students. Its rich blend of cultural and educational activities were designed to help students gain both cultural awareness and exposure to professional and academic engineering on a global scale. It was such a success that interest quickly spread to other departments and when the trip was renewed, CEE students were also invited to attend. With support from their home departments and Carnegie Mellon University College of Engineering, 22 students—10 MechE and 12 CEE—made up this year’s group.  

CIT’s Assistant Dean for Undergraduate Studies, Kurt Larsen, accompanied them to evaluate possibilities for expanding the program in future years. He says that part of what makes the trip so valuable is the sheer amount that students are able to accomplish within the short timeframe. “Every day, we were doing 2-4 major activities. You really couldn’t ask for more on a spring break trip. “ 

One major component of the itinerary was site visits. Students took tours of the facilities at several Chinese companies and learned about each industry’s operations and projects. Stops included Tsinghua Solar, a company that develops solar technology for heating and air-conditioning, Beiqi Foton Motor Co. Ltd., a company that designs and produces motor vehicles, Goldwind, a company that manufactures wind turbines, and a water treatment plant.  

Eric Parigoris (MechE ’16) says he was most interested in the water treatment plant because he could directly compare Chinese treatment methods with those in the United States.  “It was really interesting to see the process in another country.”  

For Debra Lin (CEE ’15), the most compelling part of the tours was learning about Chinese green energy initiatives. “Every company seemed to be pushing for less waste, cleaner energy, etc.  It definitely made me realize that this is something we need to continue to work toward here in the United States,” she says.   

Interspersed with industry tours were visits to Peking University (PKU) and Beijing University of Technology, where students attended presentations about faculty research and engineering challenges in China. Though there were many interesting aspects of each school, students say that the most rewarding part of their university experience was spending the afternoon with PKU undergraduates.  

Jianhua Xu (EPP ‘05, ‘07) who is now a PKU Professor, arranged for CMU students to be paired two-to-one with their Chinese peers. During lunch in the PKU cafeteria, CMU students had the unique opportunity to ask in-depth questions about college life in China.  “This was my favorite part of the educational side of the trip because it gave me exposure to academics on the other side of the world,” says Nathaniel Joseph (CEE ’15).  He adds that what surprised him the most was how many school experiences—like dorm life and on-campus food—seem to be universal.  

The group spent the rest of their time abroad immersed in Chinese culture. They sampled authentic cuisine (Larsen even sampled a fried scorpion), visited landmarks like the Great Wall of China, and practiced haggling with the shopkeepers at Beijing’s well-known Pearl Market.  Many students were in awe of China’s rich heritage.  “Seeing how Beijing formed and visiting the temples was like looking back into the past,” says Lin. Larsen notes that one of the most gratifying parts of the trip was watching the group embrace and adapt to these new experiences. “In Beijing, there were a number of occasions of locals dancing to music, and it was wonderful to see some of our students getting up and trying the dances with them!” 

Lin says she would definitely recommend the trip to other students. “I don’t see why anyone wouldn’t take this opportunity. You can make new friends and gain cultural exposure that you can’t get in the United States. It’s a great experience.”