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International flavor for Penn State Hazleton studies

Engineers in France
From left: Tiffany Veet, Dr. Wes Grebski, Richelle Reeder and Shane Brophy attended an international conference on sustainability at the Institute University of Technology of Béthune, France.
8/6/2012 —

Associate Professors Sherry Robinson and Wes Grebski fostered foreign exchange between Penn State Hazleton and universities in Norway and France in the past year while exchanging ideas for each other’s classes.

Faculty members Eileen Morgan and Jacqueline Walters led a trip to Belize where nine students did their own research on topics like medical care, use of environmental resources and the history of the Garifuna people, but also spied spider monkeys in the jungle, swam where a collapsed cave revealed a subterranean river and explored traces of the Mayan past.

Penn State Hazleton’s connection to Norway started with Robinson, who studied there on a fellowship and now flies enough to teach business classes in both countries while her students complete international projects together on their computers. 

In the summer, Robinson teaches at a program that brought Norwegians to the Hazleton campus to study business with American students. After enrollment doubled to 30 in this summer, the program’s second year, Robinson wants to reach farther.

“My vision for summer camp is to have students from all over the world and all over Penn State come to Hazleton,” she said.

Grebski welcomed three students who came from France because of their interest in a program about generating power from alternative sources of energy that he helped develop at Penn State Hazleton.

Next he took three of his engineering students to France where he taught a seminar about building solar collectors to students from six nations. After returning to Hazleton he showed the visiting Norwegians how to bake bread with the sun.

“Engineering is a global profession. In order to stay on the cutting edge of the technology, international cooperation is necessary,” he said.

Cooperation between their two specialties also makes sense to them.

Sustainability was one of the themes at the two-week conference that Grebski attended at the Universite d'Artois in Bethune, France, and of the two-week camp on entrepreneurship in Hazleton where Robinson taught students from Hogskolen i Buskerud (the college at Buskerud) in Kongsberg, Norway.

Next year, Robinson would like to have an equal number of engineering students and business students paired in each group.

The budding engineers “can learn basic business, and also inspire the business students,” Robinson said.

Just traveling to a foreign country to study takes courage, and once the Norwegian students arrived in Hazleton Robinson urged them to be brave again because entrepreneurs need to take risks to succeed.

Their opportunity occurred in their final project. They formed small groups assigned to propose a new business.

Robinson saw boldness in all their ideas.

None of the groups proposed old stand-bys such as restaurants or stores. Instead every group pitched ideas that used innovative technology.

The best project, as voted on by the students, was a cell phone case for the beach. Telephones put into the case stayed dry, recharged batteries from the sun and played music for the sunbathers to hear.

During their two-week stay, the students in the entrepreneurship program slept and ate on campus and traveled to Lancaster, where they visited businesses and saw the Amish way of life. They spent two days in Washington, D.C., where their stops included the Capitol and that citadel of innovation, the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum.

“It’s an excellent way not only to get introduced to entrepreneurship, but to get to know and interact with people from another country,” Penn State Chancellor Gary Lawler said.

Lawler has sought exchanges between students and professors at the Hazleton campus and their counterparts from the world over.

He visited India to help with a program that brings students who had studied for two years or more at their homeland universities to Hazleton to gain degrees from Penn State.

The first three students, after spending more than a year in Hazleton, have returned to India with bachelor’s degrees in Information Sciences and Technology.

“We’re looking to expand the program to all degree programs,” Lawler said.

Lawler, who might travel again to India in the fall, will seek out partnerships with Indian universities that can send students to Hazleton and other Penn State campuses.

He hopes professors, not just students, will have opportunities to exchange research by visiting one another in Pennsylvania and India.

Because Penn State Hazleton is designated as one of the international campuses in the university’s system, students have arrived on their own from Japan, Thailand and Africa.

They attend a special orientation about American customs, and a counselor checks with them throughout their stay.

“The main thing, they know they have someone to contact, to come to if they have questions,” Lawler said.

While some students study abroad for a semester, a year or more, such long stays abroad are becoming less common, but students are opting for trips of a week or two like the trip that Morgan and Walters led to Belize during spring break.

One student, researching a project before the trip thought Belize had excellent medical care, from what she read. When she talked to women in a waiting room, she got another view, especially when the staff left for the day while patients waited to see them, Walters said.

Surprises were instructive parts of the trip. Students saw that tourism and interest in historical sites like the Actun Tunichil Muknal cave that the students visited elevated the status of the Mayans, who were described as the downtrodden of the country in accounts that students read before the trip.

Living without modern conveniences in a nation of 300,000 where the average annual income is $7,500, some villages lack electricity and most roads are unpaved, has advantages, as the students learned.

“One thing all the students commented on was the lack of technology – people were hanging out together, talking, playing soccer, walking, fishing, swimming, sitting on the porch for a breeze, and you saw a few cell phones, but no hand held games and other types of tech. They noted the much greater sense of community among the Belizians compared to people in the States, the higher levels of physical and social activity and personal contact,” Morgan, the writing center coordinator at Penn State Hazleton, said.

Students spent most of the break living in a “green” lodge where they relied on solar energy and developed a taste for locally grown food, but they slept two nights in a Garifuna village where they watched traditional drumming and dancing.

Walters, coordinator of disability services at Penn State Hazleton, made a video that will point tourists to a cooperative selling products made by Mayan women. She and Morgan hope students will have opportunities to work on public service projects in other countries through similar trips in the coming years.

As with the venture in Belize, the trip that Grebski took to France with engineering students Shane Brophy, Tiffany Veet and Richelle Reeder was brief.

Although in France for just two weeks, Reeder joined a group of students that designed logistics for an imaginary company. They also considered how to reduce the company’s environmental impact through recycling, reusing and reducing materials used and increasing the lifespan of products.

Going overseas to study sustainability made sense to Reeder, a junior from Berwick who entered the engineering program after graduating from Columbia Montour Area Vocational Technical School.

“I have always viewed sustainability as a worldwide problem and movement. The world is connected by products, money and people. It is only natural for me to think that,” she said.

Members of her group came from Germany, Romania, Italy and the United States.

Each college is different, each country is different, even each person is different, if people do not explore the different possibility how is anyone to grow to their full potential. “Hazleton has many diversities but to be able to experience something and hear about it are to different things. You can not put a value to the experience and the people you become friends with,” Reeder said.

The experience of attending Penn State Hazleton and interning with a local company during a three-month stay in the United States fit into the career plans of Yann Le Moing, one of three French students who came to the campus this spring.

Le Moing wants to travel the world while managing the commercial side of construction projects.

“This internship was really rewarding to me because it taught me another way to work and enlarged my capacity to adapt myself to new things,” he said before returning to France where he plans to alternate between studies and working for a company during the next year at the Technology and Sciences Institute of Valenciennes.

His English also improved in Hazleton.

“I am starting to speak fluently enough to have a good and quick conversation,” he said.

A representative of the university’s PennTAP program that provides technical advice to small businesses helped Le Moing and two other students from France find internships at local companies while they studied in Hazleton.

Jack St. Pierre, who helps local businesses get started at the CAN BE incubator in Hazleton, where Lawler is on the board, as was his predecessor, John Madden, speaks at Robinson’s program on entrepreneurship for students from Norway.

“I think it’s great that they’re bringing kids. There’s a good connection. I think she’s going to continue,” he said.

While the foreign students learn about business during their visits to Hazleton, businesses in Hazleton might benefit from the student exchange.

“Interaction with different cultures certainly is good for the community,” St. Pierre said.

“Down the road, they talk to their parents (or) friends who say ‘This little community in Hazleton might be good for a branch office.’ You never know.”


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