Rationale for Going Abroad in the Fourth Year
The International Engineering Program curriculum is designed specifically to enable students to complete the requirements of both a B.S. degree in engineering and a B.A. in a foreign language, as well as a full year abroad, within five years. IEP students are required to spend their fourth year abroad, studying at a partner university for the Fall semester and completing a six-month internship in the Spring semester of their 4th year.
For more information about IEP Year Abroad Policies, including the list of valid exceptions to the 4th year abroad policy, see here.
Why is IEP set up for study abroad in the 4th year?
- The curriculum is laid out such that the whole five year plan is mapped out carefully for IEPers going abroad in their 4th year. Students, when following the curriculum, can graduate on time in May after the 5th year without complications.
- Students who go abroad in the 4th year are much better equipped, in terms of language proficiency, to succeed in the required upper-level language, literature and culture courses which they take when they return to URI in the 5th year.
- Tackling the 5th year capstone and other high level engineering courses is a challenge; the bonds you establish with your peer group abroad will help you form very good study and capstone groups which support each individual student.
- We want to avoid putting you into a double stress-factor situation: having to undergo the rigor of the senior year including capstone together with the discipline and time management skills needed for the preparation abroad paperwork (which is what would happen if you went in the 5th) as well as time and attention to devote to applications for prestigious monetary scholarships for the year abroad, is too much of a challenge.
Reasons for wrapping up both degrees in fifth year and impact on career
When the IEP was founded there was a consensus that having a 5th year to wrap up the IEP experience was important for several reasons:
- Depending on the nature of your internship, you will be able to make more informed choices on what to concentrate on with respect to coursework in the 5th year and future career decisions.
- When IEPers come back from the year abroad, they usually feel the whole positive impact of the year abroad, are assertive and confident and often look forward to sharing their experiences with their younger peers as ambassadors and also to giving valuable guidance to the IEP staff and directors. The IEP relies on this feedback and on this networking between the years.
- Students going in the 4th year will graduate in May and can walk – everything done – stress-free, whereas students going in the 5th would have to disrupt their year abroad to come walk in the ceremony in May, then go back and finish their internships and related internship language courses, which means you will graduate late in August of the 5th year.
- If you are, for example, a mechanical engineering major, the internship experience might reinforce your desire to become a design, production or manufacturing engineer or might discourage a certain focus area. The internship may help you solidify your wish to work in a certain field, e.g. automotive, aero/astro or process engineering.
- Similarly, if you are a chemical engineering major, an internship in a pharmaceutical company, may help you discover that this is what you love or, alternatively, that you don’t actually want to spend the rest of your life in a chemical lab but that you would instead like to be more involved in the (renewable) energy field of chemical engineering or on the coding side of process engineering, e.g. planning power or chemical plants.
- Coming back from abroad, 5th year students can use their significant personal growth and feeling of empowerment for leadership positions (e.g. as IEP student ambassadors, as team leaders on the capstone design team, as RAs in residencies, as language mentors in the IEP house, as freshman orientation leaders, etc.) which again gives you an opportunity to give back to your program and create bonds across IEP generations. This puts you at an advantage regarding your future job/grad school search.
- The 5th year is an important time to prepare job applications and, being back on campus, you have all the services you need to do so (guidance from academic advisors, COE tech fairs, career fairs, contact with local companies and IEP alumni who are hiring, etc.). It is much more difficult to apply for jobs from abroad, except for those who want to stay in that country and are recruited by their internship host company, which is rare (and even students who return for their 5th year have been successfully recruited by their internship host companies).
- The year abroad impacts IEPers in another way: you might feel that you do not want to hit the job market right away but go on to graduate school, medical school, the Peace Corps, or apply for a Fulbright or Boren scholarship. To organize this transition you need a year to set up applications, talk to advisors, get letters of recommendation, do research in an engineering lab, etc.
- Students returning to the U.S. will often experience reverse culture shock; this experience is eased considerably when you have a support system to help you through this difficult re-entry phase and when you have a familiar environment to return to.
- Spending the 5th year back on campus gives students an opportunity to process and reflect on your experiences abroad, the effects of which are often not noticed and absorbed until returning to the home country. Meeting with advisors, directors and younger students gives returning students opportunities to practice talking about your experiences abroad in meaningful ways, which contributes to your preparation for job interviews, graduate school essays, etc., as well as to better recognize how significantly your language skills have advanced. Students often recognize how advanced their engineering and cultural skills have become when they return to engineering classes at URI and see from a hands-on perspective how much of their training has come into play during their internship and how much knowledge they bring back. This knowledge can also contribute to the intellectual landscape of the engineering department as a whole, as you share your real-world experiences and observations with professors, peers in the classroom and in capstone groups.
- Fifth year students have more opportunities to connect with directors and professors in meaningful ways on campus, by meeting in person and sharing their experiences so directors/professors can get to know students beyond their names and faces, which makes serving as job references and writing recommendation letters on your behalf much easier and more productive.