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El Salvador is Our China
You might have noticed the occasional mention of the word "globalization" in the engineering community (and public press) lately.People use the word to describe the multinational nature of engineering employers,the worldwide market for products (especially in countries long thought to be too poor to buy anything we make), the worldwide selection of suppliers, and of course the purported disappearance of engineering jobs from the United States to India and China. While engineering jobs here have not disappeared and in fact hiring is robust again, I agree that globalization is real and important and that it affects our students so I would like to share with you how we view it at Santa Clara and what we are doing about it.
What does it mean for our students? While they are studying with us, our students increasingly reflect the global nature of the education marketplace and the continued attractiveness of Silicon Valley as a magnet for the technically talented. When they graduate, they face a worldwide choice of employers and job locations. For those students who wish to remain in the U.S. and in California and practice their profession, globalization means that their employers will expect them to have certain credentials and skills. Let's look at these credentials and essential skills for success
Given that engineers in the U.S., and especially in Silicon Valley, command salaries that are multiples, not percentages, higher than those in many developing economies, our students need to be worth it. They need to be darn good engineers, competent in the fundamentals; they are. They need to work at the initial, conceptual stages of product R&D and thus need to be inventive and creative. They need to understand customer requirements. As working engineers our students will work in teams, often with teammates in other locations.To function effectively in a team you have to understand and define interfaces between team members, respect the different skills of team members, and communicate effectively to keep a project moving forward. They need to understand and be sensitive to the social and cultural settings where their products will be used. And they need to be leaders in all these activities.
How do we prepare our students for these challenging requirements? The answer is in everything we do, and basically have been doing all along. We provide them with a truly solid engineering education; their success since 1912 testifies to that. We foster conceptual learning and creativity by giving them open-ended design problems at every opportunity, starting as freshmen. We give them team projects, in which they learn to work on projects of larger scope than they could do alone and how to accomplish group goals. My observation is that they love this. Social and cultural awareness are somewhat tougher to achieve. In general the SCU core curriculum provides our students with a greater understanding of the world and the ability to communicate, and through their community-service projects and ethics discussions we ask them to consider the impact of their work on the people and societies that adopt it. But the most effective tool is personal exposure to other cultures, and this is where most engineering schools are struggling to figure out where to begin.
The rage these days is to rush to China: find partners, set up a campus there, exchange people. We thought about this and did not find it a compelling avenue for us. There are no Catholic universities in China, Mandarin is a reallydifficult language to learn, and many legal protections are not all that common. We do, of course, attract a lot of graduate students from China and have been marketing our programs with increasing effectiveness there. But there is no way I would want to open up a branch of Santa Clara in China. What would make it Santa Clara? Who would staff it? I would rather invest in our local geography and help maintain Silicon Valley as the world's magnet for the technically talented than fund its transfer to Shanghai, Beijing, or Chengdu. We therefore chose another anchor for our globalization strategy: El Salvador.
El Salvador offers all the globalization lessons we want our students to learn: different language, different culture, different time zone, reverence for engineering (found just about everywhere except the U.S.), social needs that our engineers can contribute to, and highly talented engineers who cost but a fraction to employ compared to ours. For us at Santa Clara, we enjoy a larger benefit: the university maintains long-established ties with the country and the Jesuit university there, brings hundreds of students and faculty there on immersion trips, and has built-in infrastructure in the form of the Casa de la Solidaridad program that attracts study-abroad students from across the U.S.
So here is what we have done. In 2004 our faculty and students organized a conference in San Salvador on Sustainable Development for Central America, leading tracks on energy, structures, water resources, and transportation. In 2004-2005 six senior-design project teams chose projects directly targeted to meeting known needs of El Salvador, traveling there frequently. Beginning in January 2005 we offered courses to students at the Universidad Centroamericano José Simeón Cañas (the UCA) in San Salvador over a live two-way video link. In fall 2005 we sent six students to the UCA for an engineering-centric study-abroad experience. At the UCA, our students took their engineering courses by video from their professors in Santa Clara and conducted their labs at the engineering school at the UCA. They conducted community service projects organized by the Casa program at sites in El Salvador, using their engineering skills as much as possible. Upon their return the students described themselves as "transformed" by the experience. This spring we welcomed four UCA engineering students to Santa Clara for the quarter. This is the foundation we will build upon.
We will continue to keep our eye on India and China (and Uzbekistan and Namibia) and look for sensible learning opportunities. But for now, El Salvador is our China.