Last summer, Paige Braude, a civil and environmental engineering undergraduate student, learned global approaches to engineering when she visited the countries of Ecuador, Chile, and Peru in her two-week study abroad experience in South America.

Braude learned that new buildings in Santiago, Chile are designed and constructed with devices called isolators that work to separate the basement from the building above it as the building remains in place, unwavering and saving lives, during frequent earthquakes that plague the city's capital.

In Ecuador, Braude saw first-hand how engineers had to tackle piping placement issues on mountainous terrain by trekking through the Ecuadorian mountains to construction sites, observing the challenges of requiring deeper excavation and more material to meet safety regulations.

Braude was able to have this experiential opportunity because she was a part of Virginia Tech’s largest study abroad program — the College of Engineering’s Rising Sophomore Abroad Program.

Led by the college’s department of engineering education, the Rising Sophomore Abroad Program has been awarded the 2019 Senator Paul Simon Spotlight Award by the Association of International Educators, known as NAFSA. Named after the late Sen. Paul Simon of Illinois, the NAFSA Simon Awards recognize outstanding innovation and accomplishment in campus internationalization.

“Globalization at Virginia Tech means working toward becoming a global land-grant university, where our students and faculty work hand-in-hand with community stakeholders to brainstorm and develop viable solutions to the world’s most pressing, complex challenges,” said David Knight, the director of the program and international engagement in the Department of Engineering Education. “Students and faculty have to be drivers of campus internationalization for it to be authentic, sustainable, imaginative, and effective.”

Geared toward first-year and transfer engineers, the program integrates a three-credit on-campus global engineering course with multiple concurrent tracks of short-term international experiences. It provides students with opportunities to expand their global competencies by learning about differences in political, technological, social, cultural, educational, and environmental systems.

By providing students an international experience and increasing their comfort level with global travel, the program promotes additional, more extended international academic experiences, such as internships, study abroad programs, and faculty-led programs. The Rising Sophomore Abroad Program also allows students the opportunity to make initial contact with a company or university in another country to further their student experience or career prospects.

Established in 2008 as Richard Benson's, a former dean of the College of Engineering, signature program, the Rising Sophomore Abroad Program was coordinated and managed by what is now known as the Global Engineering, Engagement, and Research office. In 2014, the Department of Engineering Education took over leadership when the program consisted of one international track with 24 student participants. Over the past six years, the Rising Sophomore Abroad Program has expanded, with multiple international tracks and approximately 180 students participating each year.

Last year, the program held concurrent tracks in:

  • China
  • United Kingdom and Ireland
  • Ecuador, Peru, and Chile
  • Italy, Switzerland, and Germany
  • South Africa
  • New Zealand
  • Australia

Including the upcoming 2019 cohort, the program has fostered international education experiences for:

  • 657 undergraduate students
  • 24 graduate students
  • 51 faculty members

“Our goal is to find a way for all students who have an interest in global problem-solving to participate in the program,” said Knight, also associate professor of engineering education in the College of Engineering. “Our vision is to expand and partner with colleges across the university. Global problems are interdisciplinary and therefore require a variety of perspectives to understand. Scaling up across fields will mimic reality and provide a more authentic learning experience for our students.”