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Lehigh Engineering -- on a global scale

Nearly one-third of Lehigh's 2016 engineering class spent educational time abroad.

As vice president of Product Management for Johnson & Johnson Vision Surgical, Kathleen Taylor '87 leads an international team that oversees innovation and life cycle management of the company's medical devices and capital equipment.

Yet Taylor, who holds a B.S. in industrial engineering from Lehigh, had little experience in international business until 2001, when she was appointed manager of a medical device plant in Juárez, Mexico.

"When I attended Lehigh," Taylor said last week at a conference of engineering education leaders, "the student body was not nearly as diverse or international as it is now. My first international exposure did not come until I had been with Johnson & Johnson for 10 years and I got the opportunity to work in Mexico.

"That really shaped my mindset about the importance of getting a global perspective," said Taylor, who later also worked in Switzerland.

Taylor gave the keynote address last week at the 2017 meeting of the Global Engineering Education Exchange (Global E3), which was held at Lehigh.

Global E3 was established in 1995 by the Institute of International Education (IIE) with the goal of increasing the numbers of American engineering students who study in other countries. In 22 years, it has grown from fewer than 30 member schools—half in the United States and half in Europe—to 75 schools in 24 countries worldwide. Lehigh joined Global E3 in 2009.

About 325,000 American college students in all fields study abroad, said Peggy Blumenthal, IIE's senior counselor to the president. IIE hopes to double that number by 2020 through an initiative called Generation Study Abroad. Meanwhile, 1 million international students are studying in American colleges and universities.

In 2014-15, according to IIE statistics, only 5 percent of Americans studying abroad were engineering majors. Business and management students accounted for 20 percent of the total, social science majors for 17.3 percent, and physical and life science majors for 8 percent.

IIE believes it is critical to boost the numbers of American engineering students who study abroad.

"Every engineering student who graduates today is going to have a job that requires some interaction with non-Americans," Blumenthal said. "This might come from working abroad or from supervising or working with someone who's not American.

"Early exposure to other people from other backgrounds is a crucial part of being a 21st-century professional."

Blumenthal's comments were echoed by Cheryl Matherly, vice president and vice provost for international affairs, and by Elizabeth E. Lyons, program director in the National Science Foundation's Office of International Science and Engineering.

"We believe Global E3 is making a very important statement," Matherly said. "Global preparation is necessary for the United States to remain competitive in the international research environment."

About 23 percent of students in Lehigh's Class of 2016 who studied abroad were engineering majors, said Katie Radande, director of the university's study abroad program. Nationally, that figure was 5 percent. Radande credited some of Lehigh's relative success to innovative programs like the Mountaintop Initiative, IDEAS (Integrated Degree in Engineering, Arts and Sciences) and the Iacocca International Internship Program.

About 29 percent of engineering students in Lehigh's Class of 2016 had an international experience—in a semester-long program, in a summer or spring or winter break program, or in a service program with a group like Engineers Without Borders.

"We're happy to support the Global E3's important work by welcoming this year's conference to our campus," said Stephen P. DeWeerth, Professor and Dean of the P.C. Rossin College of Engineering and Applied Science.

"Over the course of my career, I've had the good fortune of engaging in many international research and educational experiences. These have had a profound effect on my view of the world and the role that engineers can play in shaping it. I'm therefore very supportive of innovative approaches to curriculum that enable engineering students to broaden their perspectives, as this helps to develop the diversity of thought so crucial to the advancement of our field.

"With the percentage of Lehigh engineers studying abroad at four times the national average, it is clear my colleagues here share in this belief, as well."

Read the full story at the Lehigh University News Center.

-Kurt Pfitzer is an Editor and Writer with Lehigh University's Office of Communications and Public Affairs.

June 6, 2017

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