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Engineering department aims to increase study abroad experiences in ‘Vision to 2025’


By Christina Tan     1/29/19 11:16pm

The George R. Brown School of Engineering has released a strategic plan that that sets a goal of doubling the number of Rice undergraduate engineering students participating in study abroad opportunities. 

The plan, “Vision to 2025,” was established by Dean of Engineering Reginald DesRoches and developed in alongside the university’s Vision for the Second Century, Second Decade. Other key components of the plan are developing new and current spaces on campus for research, increasing faculty hires and expanding the intersections between art and engineering. 

The plan states that expanding study abroad for engineers will come through more flexible engineering curricula, a student global travel fund and development of service learning courses abroad.

Lucy Fox, a computer science major, said she developed her own “unofficial study abroad guide” after seeing an absence of study abroad resources in the CS department.

“The computer science department did not have a central resource of classes that had been previously approved for transfer credit; this made the process a bit more difficult as I didn’t really know which classes were feasible to get transfer credit for and which weren’t,” Fox said. “However, the transfer credit advisor was very helpful and responsive even as I asked him about a large number of courses at numerous universities.”

DesRoches said that few Rice engineering students participate in study abroad because engineering programs can be too restrictive, with classes offered only once a year. Fox said that this problem is one of the most challenging aspects of studying abroad in addition to rigid prerequisites for required classes.

“One change that the computer science department has made in the past couple of years is to offer COMP 310, a major requirement, in both the fall and spring, and this has offered a lot more flexibility for [computer science] majors hoping to study abroad,” Fox, a Wiess College senior, said. “It might be useful for other departments within engineering to consider a similar change; it could potentially make a big difference.”

The plan also proposes enhancement of existing engineering spaces in conjunction with the possible creation of a new space focusing on interdisciplinary research. 

“This will be key to accommodate the growth that we anticipate in engineering, but also will be important for changing the culture of how research is done,” DesRoches said. “For example, we would like to have more space for external visitors from other universities or industry to spend time working with our faculty and students, as well as incubator space on campus for faculty that want to launch companies from their research.”

DesRoches said that he is particularly excited about developing programs to link engineering and art together. Specifically, he said that the school aims to continue current endeavours like the Oshman Engineering Design Kitchen’s upcoming Engineering + Art competition. He also said that the school will create a joint lecture series focused on engineering and art as well as hire a joint faculty member that will teach at the “interface of engineering and art.”

In terms of faculty, the plan sets a goal of a 30 percent increase in engineering faculty through the establishment of 20 new endowed chairs. Listed strategic areas in the plan include Engineering & Medicine, Molecular Nanotechnology & Materials, Cities of the Future and Energy & the Environment.

The plan also includes a focus on engineering outreach and diversity. It calls for the creation of an office of engineering outreach and engagement to “ensure best practices for diversity, equity and inclusion” in addition to structured programs to help retain diverse students and faculty. 

DesRoches said that the planning process involved a 30 member committee including faculty, staff, students and alumni. According to the plan, the engineering school gathered feedback through detailed surveys and focus groups, resulting in data from several hundred respondents. 

“It was important for the School of Engineering to have a plan that can feed into and align with the overall university’s plan,” DesRoches said. “We formed a strategic planning committee shortly after I arrived at Rice in July of 2017.”

DesRoches said that the final plan should be viewed as a living document to be assessed every year. 

“As is the case for any plan, some of the goals will be achieved completely while some will not,” DesRoches said. “It depends on our ability to get external support for some of the goals and objectives that we highlight in the plan.”

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