From Spain to schnitzel, UF Engineering’s study-abroad program reaches new heights – News


Last summer, 15 University of Florida engineering students spent six weeks in Berlin eating currywurst and tackling pressing world problems. 

Against a centuries-old backdrop laden with museums and schnitzel stands, the UF students set out to develop an easier pill bottle, mitigate coastal pollution, plan a micro-green grocer with sustainable products, straighten the posture of computer users and employ crowdsourcing to increase EV chargers in rural areas. 

They developed solutions via innovation and entrepreneurship under the guidance of Professor Erik Sander, Ph.D., the executive director of UF’s Engineering Innovation Institute. This month, Sander took another group of UF students to Berlin, this time with a new set of world problems and the momentum of a growing study-abroad program for UF Engineering students.  

There are eight more UF engineering study-abroad programs stretching across the globe this summer. While the programs are common at UF, the Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering has significantly expanded its global reach and participation for international summer studies. 

“The international programs in the College of Engineering have definitely grown since the office started in 2014,” noted Pingchien Neo, director of International Engineering Programs at UF. “In 2015, there were only two summer faculty-led programs – one in Germany and one in China.”   

Among UF’s 13 study-abroad programs, the College of Engineering now has the third highest number (387) of participating students in 2023-2024. Liberal Arts and Sciences had 760 in that timeframe, with Warrington College of Business coming in second with 548. UF has 4,544 students in study-abroad programs this year, according to UF data. 

“Options were limited for engineering students. Since then, we have added more programs in more varied locations and with more faculty involvement,” Neo said. “More and more students are interested in learning about the world beyond UF and are seeking out unique opportunities to combine their engineering career with an international perspective.” 

She credited the program’s growth to Angela Lindner, Ph.D., who created Neo’s position, and Curtis Taylor, Ph.D., who was the Associate Dean of Student Affairs before Pam Dickrell, Ph.D. 

This summer’s UF engineering study-abroad programs are happening in: 

  • Lille, France, led by Joel Parker and Philip Jackson, Ph.D.  
  • Osnabruck, Germany, led by Ana Martin-Ryals, Ph.D. 
  • South Korea, led by Gloria Kim, Ph.D., and Andrea Goncher, Ph.D. 
  • Ghana, internship led by Sanethia Thomas, Ph.D. 
  • Japan, led by Jeremiah Blanchard, Ph.D.  
  • Berlin, led by Sander. 
  • Ireland internship, led by Sophie Spratley, Ph.D. 
  • Singapore internship, led by Neo   
  • Spain, led by Jonathan Scheffe, Ph.D.  

Scheffe led 24 undergraduate students from Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, Chemical Engineering and Environmental Engineering to Almeria and Seville in southern Spain for six weeks this summer.  

“We studied next-generation energy technologies (program title is UF in Spain: Understanding Next Generation Energy Technologies),” Scheffe noted. “This was composed of two three-credit classes – thermodynamics and an applied thermodynamics class that focused on industrial decarbonization strategies.” 

The students who studied in Berlin tackled problems researched through their Innovation and Entrepreneurship classes. Like all the engineering study-abroad students, they sought solutions for real-world problems in the real world.  

“From a professional perspective,” Sander said, “we’re in a world where you’re going to work with different cultures, whether they come to your office in the U.S. or you. And the only way you are going to truly excel is if you understand how different cultures work. Everybody is not going to continue to adapt themselves to U.S. culture.” 

Four students who travelled to Berlin last year came back to work in the Engineering Innovation Institute (EII) student leadership program, said Sander, who was born in Germany.  

“They have a big culture on entrepreneurship in Berlin,” said Grace Peters, a Mechanical Engineering major who went to Berlin last summer and is a mentor with EII. “We were able to go to the different start-up centers and explore the city. They are big on technology, so we went to their technological history museum, which was really interesting.” 

This year, one graduate and 16 undergraduate students joined a dozen other international students in Berlin to study innovation and entrepreneurship and apply those lessons to address the following needs:  

  • Feed the world’s growing population, especially in food deserts 
  • Fill the lack of supply of organs for transplants  
  • Evaluate patients’ conditions in triage to provide proper medical care in the necessary order 
  • Promote healthier living and combat unhealthy habits such as poor diet choices and inadequate physical activity  
  • Identify AI-generated content to avoid misinformation on social media 

UF student participation started increasing in 2017 with 280 UF engineering students studying abroad, up from 204 in 2016-2017.  

“We bounced back rather quickly from COVID,” Neo said. “And in 2021-2022, 192 students studied abroad, and in 2022-2023, there were 355 students. This year, there are 387 students studying abroad. We are very pleased with the trend.” 

“It gives the students a truly international context of what they are doing,” Sander said. “A lot of these students go into companies — or start companies — where they’re going to be working in an international context; the customer bases, the vendors, the partners will probably be based all over the world.” 

Berlin is perfect for Sander’s classes: Engineering Innovation and Engineering Entrepreneurship.  

“If you’re an engineering student, Germany is arguably the lead engineering-centric country in Europe. Berlin is the leading entrepreneurial city in Germany,” Sander said.  

Peters said she loved Germany – as well as the other European countries they visited by train while there. She also loved the food, particularly pork schnitzel and currywurst (curry-seasoned pork sausage bites usually served with fries).  

“Berlin definitely put me outside of my comfort zone,” she said. “You try new things, like currywurst. It was an opportunity to meet new people, whether they are people from different majors or people from Australia or France or Spain. I now have really good connections.” 

David Schlenker July 9, 2024


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