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Students get big picture with international internships

While working as an intern at John Deere's diesel engine plant in Torreón, Mexico, manufacturing systems engineering student Dan Feig would sometimes venture out for a night with his Mexican counterparts. Despite the heat, he says his friends would dress up, "just short of a suit and tie." But not Feig. While he took participating in the culture seriously, he drew the line at wearing warm clothing in crowded places when the temperature was above 95 degrees. He dressed lightly and took the ribbing.

Feig with co-workers

Feig says working and making friends with Mexican engineers was definitely a highlight of his internship. (large image)

Feig says there were a myriad of small differences in culture, attitude, economics and approaches to work that made his experience rewarding. "I've always wanted to work in a Spanish-speaking country. I spent 90 percent of my day speaking in Spanish," says Feig. "I made some great relationships with extremely intelligent, hard working people who were a joy to work with. You just can't learn from a textbook what it's like to work in another culture."

Feig's internship was set up through a College of Engineering partnership with Cargill. Cargill's Higher Education Initiative has funded Human Resource Associate Juan Banda's position at the university for the past year and a half. He focuses on finding international companies to hire interns in business, agriculture and engineering.

"Anyone who can get abroad to work or study should do it," says Banda. "It's of great value. The reality is, this is a global economy and a global workforce we're dealing with and students who have the broader perspective or the big picture are going to be better prepared for now and the future. It opens their eyes. They develop technical business skills they might not otherwise get in a domestic internship."

Feig and Deere staff

Feig worked with staff of John Deere's diesel engine plant to translate computer code and manufacturing instructions from English to Spanish. (large image)

Banda works closely with Engineering Career Services Co-op Internship Director John Archambault. They try to create opportunities abroad but also develop positions with companies in the U.S. that have international departments or divisions. Banda says there are a lot of good international internships in which students are based in the U.S. doing internationally focused work. He says students who too narrowly define international internships as leaving the United States could be missing a lot of good educational opportunities.

Working for Pillsbury, Marcela de Leon Gatti had just that kind of internship. She was based in Minneapolis but spent her days contacting people in Argentina and China.

"It was a very good experience and I learned a lot, not just from speaking with people in other countries, but there were a lot of different people working in the office in Minneapolis. It was a very interesting environment," Gatti says.

About five or six COE students work in international internships each year, says Archambault. His office will continue to pair students with international positions when Banda returns to Cargill. While it takes considerable effort to find the right match between student and industry, Archambault says the greatest challenge is finding willing industry partners to create internships or sponsor students.

Feig in Torreón

Dan Feig with the skyline of Torreón in the background. (large image)

"We encourage our alumni to get involved," he says. "We need to train our students globally. Ultimately industry will benefit by having a better pool of candidates fr which to hire."

Students are also working to build these relationships with industry. UW-Madison's chapter of the International Association for the Exchange of Students for Technical Experience (IAESTE) was formed in the fall of 1998. It is the second local chapter formed in the United States. Chapter president Chad Jansen is currently working at a co-op in Milwaukee with GE Medical Systems. He says the vision of the UW-Madison chapter is to increase the global presence and awareness of UW-Madison students through technical exchange. IAESTE provides jobs for students in more than 64 countries. For every job the local chapter finds for an international student in the U.S., one UW-Madison student is guaranteed a job abroad.

To employ a UW-Madison student abroad or sponsor an IAESTE student in the United States, please contact:

John Archambault, 608/262-5691, archambault@engr.wisc.edu

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