Melissa (Sauer) Forkner in Prague
Melissa (Sauer) Forkner on Charles Bridge in Prague, Czech Republic.

It’s a journey that many students will find difficult to erase from their minds, nor will they want to. Studying abroad is becoming more important to our students’ educational experience than ever before. When our new graduates enter the field, they are often required to travel overseas, where they will manage and interact with new people of diverse ethnicities and countries. The Cockrell School of Engineering’s International Engineering Education Program offers our students opportunities of a lifetime that will prepare them for these experiences as they work toward becoming engineering leaders of the 21st Century.

According to the Institute of International Education’s latest annual report, The University of Texas at Austin ranks second in the nation for sending students to study abroad, with more than 2,800 students traveling to over 80 countries a year. The Department of Aerospace Engineering and Engineering Mechanics contributes to these numbers, providing students with a wide variety of opportunities to study abroad.

Currently, the department participates in a Maymester program in Germany and Austria, summer programs in Spain and France, and spring semester programs in The Netherlands, France, and England. As of now, there are five ASE students studying at TU Delft in The Netherlands, the most the department has had at one time. This May, 19 ASE majors will be studying abroad in Austria.

While abroad, students are afforded the opportunity to interact with students and faculty from that region and other countries, immerse themselves in cultural activities, visit museums, and much more.

According to Sarah Kitten, the department’s academic coordinator, students will be able to experience first hand that other countries have diverse ways of living than that of the United States. Students will learn the priorities of different people and how to work with them.

Melissa (Sauer) Forkner, BS ASE ’12, who studied in Delft, said it has shown her employers that she has experience learning and living in a different culture, is not afraid of change, and is willing to relocate and work in different settings. Forkner recently completed the Leadership Development Program for Engineering at Textron, where she used her experience to interact with people of different cultures.

“The headquarters of one of our businesses, Kautex, is in Germany,” Forkner said. “I had German friends when I was abroad as well as traveled through Germany, so I know a little bit about how they think and operated.”

“Studying abroad at the very least gave me the knowledge that cultures can vary so drastically across the world, and to remember that when you're doing business with people in those countries,” she said.

There are many factors that might discourage students from even considering studying abroad, such as finances. The university offers many scholarship opportunities to help students obtain enough funds to travel and there are also initiatives to get first generation college students out into the world.

Kitten said that some students may also believe that studying abroad could cause delays in their graduation date, but that this is not the case. The programs offer the same courses that students normally take at UT, so credit is given for the same course taken abroad.

Guillermo Aguilar-Peña, an ASE senior, studied abroad at the University of Sheffield in England over the spring semester of 2014. One of the main differences he said he noticed was the work and life balance.

Guillermo Aguilar Pena

Guillermo Aguilar-Peña while studying abroad.

“There was a bigger focus on ‘what can you do outside of classes?’ Especially being with a lot of other international students and living all together, everybody had the same mindset of, ‘let’s enjoy while we’re here and let’s do everything that we possibly can,” Aguilar-Peña said.

And whenever Aguilar-Peña hears someone is interested in traveling abroad, he encourages them to find resources that are available in order to go.

“Even if you think it’s too late, it really isn’t. You need to take advantage of any opportunity you can find. It’s unbelievable,” he said. “It’s one of the best experiences I’ve ever had and I really wish I could do it again or even have gone for a full year. So just go, get out there.”

For more information about studying abroad, visit the International Engineering Education website.

View photos of our students during their study abroad experience.