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Technology Students From Mexico Visit Penn College

No one has to tell the college students and faculty visiting Pennsylvania College of Technology this week from Toluca, Mexico, about the advantage of developing and maintaining a global perspective.

By 2005, the goal at Instituto Tecnologico y de Estudios Superiores de Monterrey (Toluca, Mexico, campus) is for at least one-half of the 4,500 students enrolled there to complete at least one international experience, said Dr. Jose Carlos Miranda, who is supervising a group of 10 engineering students visiting Penn College.

Graduates from the institute, Miranda says, compete for jobs with engineers from around the world. Since passage of the North American Free Trade Act in 1993, providing international experiences for students has become even more relevant.

“We don’t think it’s going to diminish,” he said, “it’s only going to increase.”

Dr. Lawrence J. Fryda, dean of the School of Industrial and Engineering Technologies at Penn College, concurs.

Fryda – who came to Penn College in January from Central Michigan University – provided the impetus for the one-week summer program with the Mexican students. He had been chairman of the Department of Industrial and Engineering Technology at Central Michigan, and he established a similar program there that’s now in its fifth year.

In addition to the summer program here, Fryda hopes Penn College will initiate a student-exchange program with the institute in Toluca, which is the fastest-growing campus in the 31-campus Monterrey Institute of Technology system. Fryda also established an exchange program with a Russian university while at Central Michigan, and he is an ardent advocate of such initiatives, saying they provide students, many of whom have never traveled outside the United States before, with invaluable learning opportunities.

“It’s something I believe in very strongly – exposing young people to other cultures,” he said. “It’s a very positive experience for our students.”

If the exchange program is approved, about 10 students from Penn College will visit the institute in Toluca for one week, staying with families of students there, Fryda said. The Penn College students’ primary expense will be transportation to Toluca, a modern industrial center about an hour’s drive west of Mexico City.

The students will receive a crash course in Spanish, attend lectures, visit area industries and soak up as much local culture as possible. The plans are for the trip to coincide with Penn College’s spring break.

“This is not intended to be a vacation,” Fryda emphasized, adding he expects many of the students will pursue additional courses in Spanish when they return and undertake return visits on their own.

In addition to the student exchange, there may also be opportunities for Penn College faculty members to visit the institute and present lectures, Fryda said.

“We’re a good match in many, many ways,” he said.

The Mexican students visiting here for the exchange program would have similar experiences and stay with local families. Their central learning experience would be associated with the design and testing of the College’s entry in the “Susquehanna Mini-Indy” race for charity staged annually in Williamsport.

One thing the institute’s students won’t need is intensive language tutoring. Ten to 15 years ago, a working knowledge of English was considered “a plus” for the institute’s students, Miranda said. Now, he explained, “For our students, to speak English is essential.” The students are encouraged to learn at least one other language, as well, since the institute has similar exchange programs in France, Germany, Singapore and other countries around the world.

“At our campus, we really value this kind of exchange program,” said Miranda, who earned his doctoral degree at the University of Wales.

The seven male and three female students visiting Penn College this week are enjoying a number of educational and cultural experiences. They’re modifying and testing mini-racers, performing experiments in the Plastics and Polymer Technology laboratories, learning about painting in the Automotive Technology and Collision Repair Technology labs, and performing dynamometer testing on vehicles.

It hasn’t been all work, though. The itinerary includes attending a Williamsport Crosscutters minor league baseball game, golfing, visiting a wilderness area, riding on the Hiawatha Paddlewheeler, taking a trip to Knoebels Amusement Resort and sampling the nightlife in downtown Williamsport.

Jonathan Ayala, a 21-year-old senior in the institute’s mechanical engineering program, hopes to attend graduate school in Germany and work for a large automotive company. He has visited a number of U.S. colleges and universities previously. He’s says there’s more equipment available at Penn College than at the institute, and a greater emphasis is placed on the practical aspect of education.

“The infrastructure is really impressive,” he added.

Another senior at the institute, Ricardo Garcia, 22, an electrical engineering student, had visited the United States previously for a United Nations program at Harvard University. He’d like to attend graduate school in the United States or Germany and land a job in robotics or microprocessor design.

He echoed Ayala’s comments about the ample equipment and the practical component to the Penn College experience, explaining, “It’s not theory – they have the machines, and they know how to use the machines.”

Garcia said he’s also been impressed with the friendliness of the faculty and the many cultural experiences he and his fellow students have enjoyed. “It gives another perspective,” he said.

Fryda sees these types of exchanges becoming more prevalent, given the nature of the global economy.

He said the sampling of day-to-day living in another country is a bonus for students, whose world view may change as a result. Mexican students may marvel at U.S. students living in apartments and owning their own cars, for instance, and U.S. students might be amazed to learn that their Mexican counterparts often live at home until they are married, and their extended families congregate often and are more close-knit.

“It’s a tremendous, positive experience,” Fryda said of the exchanges. “It’s a cultural awareness. It changes your views.”

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