Angel Gonzalez Garcia wanted to have a study abroad experience on his resume. Odette Camacho wanted to gain professional work experience and bring it back to Mexico. These students found these opportunities at West Virginia University through a study abroad internship with the Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources.
The International Outreach Program in Mexico is a combination of a study abroad program with an industrial internship. During the academic year, students from three Queretaro universities come to WVU to study and learn about the professional environment in the U.S.
Garcia is in his third year as an automation engineering major at the Autonomous University of Queretaro. He learned about WVU when Victor Mucino, associate dean for education and program coordinator, visited Queretaro last summer.
“I wanted to work with people who have different backgrounds in culture, which I think is really important for teamwork in a professional setting,” he said.
Camacho is a senior mechanical engineering major at the Technological Institute of Queretaro. She met some of the WVU students who went to Mexico in the summer of 2013 as well as some of the Mexican students who came to WVU last school year.
The biggest transition for Garcia was living on his own on campus because he lives with his parents in his hometown of Queretaro. He quickly realized how fun campus life can be.
“Sometimes, I sit in class and I say to myself, ‘This is really amazing. I’m studying in another country with people from other parts of the world as well!’”
Camacho said this experience has greatly improved her non-engineering skills.
“Being an engineer is not just understanding complicated problems as many people think, but also being able to communicate with other engineers and people in general,” she said. “Definitely this program has helped me grow in this aspect.”
She said that this program has improved her communication skills and allowed her to forge new friendships, as well as growing as a person.
“It is such a great opportunity to expand my horizons,” said Camacho. “Now, I have a different perspective of the world and how it relates to me.”
Each summer, WVU students travel to Queretaro, Mexico, and team up with students there who study in similar fields to solve meaningful engineering projects in industry.
Andrew Rhodes, a graduate student in aerospace engineering, was enthusiastic to learn about the Mexican culture and put his academic knowledge to use for a business.
“I learned how to apply my educational and hardworking background to the tasks at hand and learned about my adaptability to a foreign culture,” said the Morgantown, W.Va., native. “I would never hesitate to return to the wonderful city of Querétaro!”
Dillon Carden, a senior mechanical engineering major from Parkersburg, W.Va., traveled to Mexico not just for the cultural experience, but he used the trip as a senior design project.
“I learned that engineering begins with theory, and then you must apply that knowledge to form a solution,” said Carden. “It doesn’t always come quickly, but trying over and over, making corrections each time, can finally give you a solution that works.”
His team’s solution saved their company around $250,000.
Both Carden and Rhodes were shocked at how easily they made friends and were able to work with people of a different culture and language.
Mucino, who is a professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, believes the program gives students unrivaled experiences to put on their resumes during the job search process.
“Companies need highly qualified engineers who are bilingual, and for the most part WVU has had contact with companies through the IOPM for the past 17 years,” said Mucino. “Because of this, WVU is highly regarded as an institution with unique international programs.”
Students must apply to the program on both ends and the professors from their respective universities review all applications and select the cohort of students to travel abroad each year.
Mucino stressed the importance of real-world application before graduation.
“The bottom line for WVU is that we are contributing to graduate more competitive students, who have a better understanding of their profession and its role in a societal context,” he said.