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Engineers Abroad: Six Weeks in Italy

Nina Welding • DATE: September 4, 2018

Tourists who visit the Eternal City immerse themselves into the food and the art of Rome, trying to soak up as much of the Italian culture as possible. They visit the ancient ruins, the Vatican, and the many beautiful churches in the city. But when you’re an engineering undergraduate, especially when you’re enrolled in the Rome Summer Engineering Program like Isabella Delgado-Castillo and Teayanna Leytham, you pack a lot more into six weeks than the typical traveler.  

All engineering undergraduates take two courses during the six-week program and live in the center of the city. This is key because professionals practice in an international environment, where they must recognize and be responsible to global technological progress as well as social concerns. When students live in a different country for a summer, or a year in some cases, they become familiar with the technological achievements in the country and everyday life [how technology affects the citizens of that country].

In addition to course work, which is always related to their specific majors, engineering students participate in cultural and engineering based field trips. They also have ample opportunities for long weekends so they can explore other countries across Europe.

Delgado-Castillo, a junior from Winter Garden, Fla., who is pursuing a double major in civil engineering and political science, chose her majors because she felt they would offer her opportunities to affect change and better society in the future. Her recent summer abroad experience, exploring past and present-day Rome, proved even more exciting than she had expected. “I didn’t know much about the architectural and engineering genius of the Romans or the powers of the Italian masters of the Renaissance,” she said. “I was fully unprepared and wholly awestruck by their ability to manipulate space and human perspective, as well as the ability of people to use buildings to tell stories. The engineering behind the structural marvels I saw was equally striking.”

Her Roman “holiday” was not her first global experience. For more than a year, Delgado-Castillo has been part of a team in the Notre Dame Initiative for Global Development working to improve access to potable water in a community in Colombia. She spent her last fall break in Columbia completing a field assessment for the next part of the project.  “What I’m learning,” she says, “is that a Notre Dame engineering education goes beyond the technical and truly seeks to produce a well-rounded socially conscious engineer.”

A chemical engineering major from Council Bluffs, Iowa, Leytham calls her experience life-changing. “Academically, the classes I took [Integrated Engineering and Business Fundamentals and Ethics and Professional Issues in Engineering] were unlike any other classes I’ve had,” she said. “I became so much more aware of how the world works. The business course taught me about concepts that are crucial to daily corporate life and how engineers fit into that life while the ethics course brought a lot of new issues to light … from constructing roads to corporate rights to censorship.”

Leytham also grew personally. “I chose not to receive the program meal plan, so I was responsible for budgeting for food, shopping for ingredients, and preparing my meals in the Villa kitchen,” she said. Leytham and other students in the program were responsible for their free time, planning weekend adventures all around Italy. “It was scary but it was more liberating and rewarding than anything.”

For more information on the Women in Engineering program, visit https://engineering.nd.edu/wie

For information on study abroad programs for Notre Dame engineering students, visit https://engineering.nd.edu/academics/studyabroad