Students from Italy getting slice of U.S. life

Students from Italy getting slice of U.S. life

URBANA – For several years, University of Illinois engineering students have been spending summers at the University of Pisa to study Italian language and culture, not to mention learning how nuclear power stations work.

This fall, the UI and University of Pisa reversed courses.

For several weeks, a group of 18 Italian students will be at the UI taking an energy systems course (alongside 18 UI students) and visiting places such as Argonne National Laboratory southwest of Chicago and the Clinton Power Station, an Exelon nuclear power plant.

They'll also be observing classes to see how engineering courses are taught in the United States.

The students arrived Aug. 20 and will be here through Sept. 25. Most are graduate students in industrial and civil engineering at the University of Pisa.

Calogero Sowlima, a teacher and project engineer with the University of Pisa who focuses on industrial and nuclear engineering, said many of the students have never been outside of Italy or Europe.

"To come here is one way to know a different culture and lifestyle," he said. "They're hoping to improve their knowledge of the English language, American culture and see how U.S. engineering classes work."

For those UI students who don't study abroad, this new program can bring an international experience to them, said Keith Hjelmstad, associate dean for academic affairs at the College of Engineering.

"Italian and American students can rub shoulders; it's a way to bring Italy here to the U.S.," Hjelmstad said.

This is first time the University of Pisa has ever done anything like this, Hjelmstad said.

"Many observers said it couldn't be done. But it has worked, and it's a great thing. It's hard to get these things to go. Our semesters don't match up so we had to be creative on how to offer the class," Hjelmstad said.

The UI developed the energy systems class and partnered with the UI's Intensive English Institute to offer a course focusing on the needs of the Italians. Like the class for UI students in Italy, this one is taught by UI faculty and includes visits to coal plants and other sites.

"Energy is such a pervasive issue, everyone is interested in the topic," said James Stubbins, professor and head of the Department of Nuclear, Plasma and Radiological Engineering.

Stubbins, who has taught the course in Italy several times, said he hopes the program continues to develop and evolve into much more than a course offered to UI and Italian students. He envisions the program as a bridge between the two institutions, encouraging faculty and graduate students to collaborate on research projects.

"It goes along with our strategic plan which calls for developing international programs opportunities for students and international cooperations for researchers," said Theresa Finis, who as director of international programs for the College of Engineering helped organize the program.

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