Go Global, Young Engineer!

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.

A 21st-century necessity

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.”

“NSF’s goal is to develop the globally engaged workforce that the nation needs,” said Lyons. “So we support international research experiences for U.S. STEM [science, technology, engineering and mathematics] students.

“There is fantastic science being done overseas. Other universities sometimes offer access to better equipment. Their researchers might do chemistry or physics differently, for example. Being exposed to this is an invaluable experience for American students.”

A supportive and innovative curriculum

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.”

Officials at the Global E3 conference cited several obstacles that discourage engineering students from enrolling in study-abroad programs. Some students, said Matherly, believe studying abroad might be too difficult to arrange and not necessary or helpful for their careers. Others, said Radande, fear the cost will be too great or that they will miss out on recruiting opportunities and job interviews at their home campus.

But the biggest barrier is the inability to take required courses at an overseas school.

“The difficulty in transferring credits for an engineering education is one of the main reasons we started Global E3,” said Blumenthal. “It is much easier for humanities and social science and business majors to take required courses in a study-abroad program than for engineering and pre-med and some science students.

“We formed the consortium so that students know in advance that they can get from overseas schools the credits and prerequisites they need to graduate from their home schools. Every school in the Global E3 consortium makes the commitment that students who take courses at their school will know before they start the program that they can get the courses they need.

“At the same time, we hope engineering students who study overseas will also take electives to enrich their international experience.”

The need for diverse teams

Kathleen Taylor spent three years managing Johnson and Johnson’s Ethicon Endo-Surgery plant in Juárez, Mexico. She later completed a two-year stint as managing officer of the company’s Obtech Medical manufacturing plant in Le Locle, Switzerland.

Those experiences, she said, have reinforced the importance of international collaboration to industrial innovation.

“I tell my leadership teams that if everyone on the team thinks like me and has the same background as I do, then I’ve wasted a whole bunch of head count.

“You really need people who think differently from you, you need different ideas and experiences to build robust solutions and to minimize the mistakes you make.”

The international experience has enriched her in other ways as well, Taylor said.

“Before I was assigned to go to Mexico, I had never taken a Spanish course. I went to a school in Morelia and took Spanish immersion classes for eight hours a day. I lived for six weeks with a host family that didn’t speak English.

“After three years in Mexico, my Spanish really improved.”

Studying and learning to speak another language, Taylor said, “really gives you an appreciation for how complex the English language can be and how much we take for granted its idiosyncrasies.”

Notes:

The Global E3 Conference highlighted “pedagogical innovations” that aim to increase the number of engineering students studying abroad, while providing administrators and professors with new ideas for encouraging students to study abroad.

Eighty-eight officials from 51 of Global E3’s member institutions attended the conference. Sessions and workshops focused on international health, safety and safety; on Worldwide Perspectives of Adapting Engineering Education to Change; on Innovations in Engineering Education: Utilizing Technology for Global Engagement; on Cross-Institutional International Perspectives in Engineering; and on Generation Study Abroad: Influencing Engineering Students and Programs.

Optional activities included a visit to the New Jersey Institute of Technology and a tour of the United Nations with a discussion of “Science and Technology, Faculty and Students and the Potential to Achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.” The UN tour was organized through the Lehigh-United Nations Partnership.

The conference’s plenary address was given by Khanjan Mehta, vice provost for creative inquiry and director of Lehigh’s Mountaintop Initiative.

Conference guests toured Lehigh’s campus and laboratory facilities and attended a panel discussion on interdisciplinary programs in Lehigh’s P.C. Rossin College of Engineering and Applied Science, including IDEAS (Integrated Degree in Engineering, Arts and Sciences), IBE (Integrated Business and Engineering), CSB (Computer Science and Business) and IPD (Integrated Product Development).


Story by Kurt Pfitzer

Photos courtesy of the Office of International Affairs

 

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