Exchange Program To Give UA Students International Experience

  • September 15th, 2014
UA President Judy Bonner, left, and Rector Christian Maercker, professor and president of University of Applied Sciences, Hochschule Esslingen, signed an agreement to begin an international exchange program between the two institutions.
UA President Judy Bonner, left, and Rector Christian Maercker, professor and president of University of Applied Sciences, Hochschule Esslingen, signed an agreement to begin an international exchange program between the two institutions.

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. —  The University of Alabama will partner with a German institution in a student exchange program aimed to provide students deep international industrial, educational and cultural experiences.

Officials with the UA College of Engineering and the University of Applied Sciences, Hochschule Esslingen, signed an agreement today with UA President Judy Bonner and Dr. Charles L. Karr, dean of the UA College of Engineering, to begin the program.

The agreement was also signed by Hochschule Esslingen administrators Rector Christian Maercker, a professor, and Dr. Peter Väterlein, professor and vice president for academic affairs and international affairs.

About 20 UA students from the freshman engineering class will be selected each year to take a rigorous course of study that couples engineering and computer science instruction with German-language courses. During the summer between their freshman and sophomore years, they will work for Mercedes-Benz U.S. International, a Mercedes-Benz automobile manufacturing unit about 20 miles from the UA campus.

Their junior year will be spent studying at Hochschule Esslingen, which is a suburb of Stuttgart, Germany, and located in the high-tech hot spot of the state of Baden-Wuerttemberg, home of such multi-national companies as Mercedes-Benz, Porsche, Bosch and ZF Group.

After the semester of coursework, the students will stay in Germany another semester to work for Mercedes-Benz in either production or research and development.

Mercedes-Benz strongly supports the student exchange, and it is likely more companies will be added to the program as several German automakers and their suppliers have a presence in Alabama and surrounding states,  said Dr. Bharat Balasubramanian, executive director of UA’s Center for Advanced Vehicle Technologies and professor in mechanical engineering and electrical and computer engineering

“It has been said before, but the world truly is flat,” said Karr. “We prepare our students to compete for jobs across the globe, and this program furthers that mission. In addition to the technical knowledge gained, they will acquire cultural and language skills to make them more successful in working for multi-national companies.”

The program will most likely attract students from mechanical, electrical, computer and metallurgical engineering along with computer science. Preference will be given to students who show an interest in concentrating on the planned automotive engineering track offered through the College of Engineering.

The program has already selected the inaugural class, and 20 freshmen and two upperclassmen have begun the process of taking engineering courses and language classes. The program will demand a lot of students to learn a language on top of regular coursework.

“This really is a fantastic opportunity for those who stick with it,” Balasubramanian said. “I did this during my studies in college, and I survived pretty well.”

Before coming to the UA College of Engineering in fall 2012, Balasubramanian was vice president of group research and advanced engineering at Mercedes-Benz in Germany, responsible for product innovations and process technologies. He retired after nearly 40 years as a research and development engineer, and he is working to strengthen ties between UA and the automotive industry while aligning some coursework to meet automotive industry needs.

Balasubramanian will oversee the program on the UA side and will lead several seminars for the students during their time in the program.

The students from Hochschule Esslingen will have the opportunity to study at UA and learn about American business and industry, which will be an attractive option, Balasubramanian said.

Students from both institutions will receive course credit while studying abroad. At UA, the Cooperative Education and Professional Practice Program will provide the framework for students to maintain their academic standing while gaining experience at Mercedes-Benz or other corporations.

The University of Alabama, the state’s oldest and largest public institution of higher education, is a student-centered research university that draws the best and brightest to an academic community committed to providing a premier undergraduate and graduate education. UA is dedicated to achieving excellence in scholarship, collaboration and intellectual engagement; providing public outreach and service to the state of Alabama and the nation; and nurturing a campus environment that fosters collegiality, respect and inclusivity.