Rensselaer Launches International Experience for All Engineering Students

April 11, 2008

REACH program will create new opportunities for study abroad, overseas fellowships and internships

Troy, N.Y. — To better prepare tomorrow’s leaders with the global perspective and multicultural sophistication that will be necessary to tackle the grand challenges facing humanity the 21st century, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute will now expect 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 Rensselaer community today celebrated 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 document legally and symbolically formalized the partnership of Rensselaer and DTU on the REACH program, and reinforced the dedication of both universities to providing all students with the opportunity to be global citizens with multicultural experiences.  Rensselaer will later sign similar documents with its other REACH partners.

“Rensselaer is proud to partner with DTU and other universities on such a critical endeavor,” 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.”

“The days of ‘one-size-fits-all’ engineering are over,” said Alan Cramb, dean of Rensselaer’s School of Engineering. “Creating a water purification and desalination system for the West Coast of the United States, for example, is an entirely different task from creating a similar system in India, or South Africa, as all nations have unique infrastructures, energy landscapes, and regulations. Localized solutions will require engineers who have an intimate, firsthand knowledge of the country or region. 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.”

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. 

“DTU is both very excited and honored of becoming a first partner in Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute’s REACH program — a visionary program masterminded by RPI as a truly global outreach endeavor,” Pallesen said. “Kindred as two of the oldest polytechnic universities in the world, I regard our new partnership as a testament to the fact that we as excellent technical universities share not only a strategic courage but equally important a capacity to develop new paths within education in order to provide our students with truly cross-cultural and international competences on top of first class engineering skills. We look forward to welcome the first RPI students and we’ll do our utmost to ensure them a truly cross-cultural experience at DTU studying side by side with our Danish students and our more than 800 international students. At DTU we have pursued our strategic goal of being in the elite by teaming up with only the leading technical universities in few but valuable and demanding alliances. Our partnership with RPI is exactly the kind of substance-oriented partnership we seek.”

“I am very happy that NTU is one of the founding partners of this groundbreaking program at RPI,” Su said. “A global education is not a luxury but a requirement for the engineer of today. To be successful in this flat world of ours, our graduates need to recognize global mega-trends and factor these trends into their work. In today’s global economy, the demand for culturally sophisticated graduates rises. Through this new partnership with RPI, our students will have invaluable opportunities to be exposed to different cultures and environment where they can learn and mature to become truly global leaders in their fields with multicultural experiences.”

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 abroad 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 expected to participate in an international experience.

Ultimately, the program is expected to grow beyond Rensselaer’s School of Engineering to encompass a campuswide range of disciplines and departments. 

Lester Gerhardt, director of international programs for Rensselaer’s 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. “It’s also important that our partners have a large existing base of international students, so visiting students can get as broad a cross-cultural experience as possible.”

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. Gerhardt said these numbers clearly illustrate that American universities must take quick and decisive actions to expose their students to other countries, cultures, and perspectives.

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.

Following the symbolic signing ceremony, President Jackson hosted a presidential colloquy that examined 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, titled “A Global Reach in a Shrinking World,” included the following participants:

The Honorable Shirley Ann Jackson, Ph.D. (Moderator)
President, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Lars Pallesen, Ph.D.
Rector, Technical University of Denmark

Lim Mong King, Ph.D.
Professor and Senior Advisor on Globalization to President Guaning Su, Nanyang Technological University

Sabine O’Hara, Ph.D.
Vice President, Institute for International Education
Executive Director, Council for the International Exchange of Scholars Institute of International Education

Sean O’Sullivan, Class of 1985

Founder, SOSventures Investments Ltd., JumpStart International, MapInfo Corporation

To watch an archived Webcast of the colloquy, visit:

For more information on the REACH program, visit:

Contact: Michael Mullaney
Phone: (518) 276-6161

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