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About 96 percent of humanity lives outside the borders of the United States, but only 19 percent of Americans have passports, and less than 2 percent of U.S. college students study abroad each year.

To better prepare tomorrow’s leaders with the global perspective and
multicultural sophistication that will be necessary to tackle the grand challenges facing humanity in the 21st century, Rensselaer is taking the bold and unique step of requiring all undergraduate engineering students to participate in an international experience.

The new program, Rensselaer Engineering Education Across Cultural Horizons, or REACH, is highly flexible in that it will offer students the opportunity to participate in structured study abroad programs, as well as other international experiences such as internships, exchange programs, or other overseas opportunities. The program will be phased into School of Engineering curricula over the next several years, and is expected to grow and encompass a campuswide range of disciplines and departments.

The Rensselaer community will celebrate the kickoff of the REACH program with several events, including a presidential colloquy examining the importance of international education, and the signing of a memorandum of understanding by Rensselaer President Shirley Ann Jackson and Technical University of Denmark (DTU) Rector Lars Pallesen.

The presidential colloquy, titled “A Global REACH in a Shrinking World,” will examine issues including the importance of international education, the opportunities and challenges of multicultural education, and how to best engage current and prospective students about the importance of a meaningful international experience as part of their education.

The colloquy, which begins at 1:30 p.m. on Friday, April 11, will be held in the Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies auditorium. Participants are: Rensselaer President Shirley Ann Jackson, moderator; Lars Pallesen, rector, Technical University of Denmark; Lim Mong King, professor and senior adviser on globalization to President Guaning Su, Nanyang Technological University; Sabine O’Hara, vice president, Institute for International Education, and executive director, Council for the International Exchange of Scholars, Institute of International Education; and Sean O’Sullivan ’85, founder, SOSventures Investments Ltd., JumpStart International, and MapInfo Corporation.

“Rensselaer is proud to partner with the Technical University of Denmark, Nanyang Technological University, and other universities on such a critical endeavor,” President Jackson said. “From global climate change and the growing global thirst for energy, to healthcare and the depletion of our natural resources, the current generation of students — our future leaders — will be charged with developing technological and societal solutions of unprecedented scope and influence. Such pursuits cannot and will not occur in a vacuum. Their resolution rests upon collaborative research and innovation, and because we live in a shrinking, interconnected world, this collaboration requires a vibrant diversity of thought and perspective to ensure that these global solutions can be successfully implemented in any given nation, region, or community.”

DTU and Nanyang Technological University (NTU) in Singapore are the first universities to partner with Rensselaer for the REACH program. The three universities have a longstanding history of collaboration and cooperation, having participated for more than a decade in the Global Engineering Education Exchange program.

REACH will be phased in over the next several years. In 2009, 25 percent of Rensselaer undergraduate engineering majors will study abroad at partner universities. In return, an equal number of undergraduates from these partner universities will study at Rensselaer. The percentage of Rensselaer students going abroad will increase gradually through 2015, when REACH will be fully implemented and all engineering juniors will be required to have an international experience.

“The days of ‘one-size-fits-all’ engineering are over,” said Alan Cramb, dean of the School of Engineering. “With the launch of the REACH program, Rensselaer is taking a huge leap forward to ensure our students have all the tools and experiences they need to become the engineers of tomorrow. I am confident the REACH program will be a call to action not only to the Rensselaer community, but also other technological universities and engineering schools.”

Lester Gerhardt, director of international programs for the School of Engineering and vice provost and dean of graduate education, acting, said Rensselaer is in the process of forming new relationships and actively seeking out potential new REACH partner universities to ensure that students have a range of geographic and cultural options for study abroad destinations. “Our partners must be top-ranked, must offer a breadth of engineering disciplines, and offer courses in English,” said Gerhardt, who will lead the REACH program.

In addition to participating in a study abroad semester through the School of Engineering, other international experiences are also being investigated. These options may include short-term research-intensive study abroad programs through Summer@Rensselaer, attending the floating university of Semester at Sea, working to improve the quality of life in disadvantaged communities with Engineers Without Borders International, volunteering in developing nations with the Peace Corps, or helping to spread environmental awareness with Engineers for a Sustainable World.

Rensselaer has long urged engineering undergraduates to participate internationally in the Global Engineering Education Exchange program, a program it co-founded in 1994. The enthusiasm of the participants in this and other programs, as well as the demand for more culturally sophisticated graduates to join international corporate teams, has demonstrated clearly the need for Rensselaer to take a bold step forward and launch the REACH program, Gerhardt said.

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Inside Rensselaer
Volume 2, Number 6, April 4, 2008
©2008 Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
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