Contributed by: Lynda Robinson (Vancouver Island University)
Interview with Dr. Trevor Hanson, Associate Professor, Civil Engineering, University of New Brunswick
How did you become interested in pursuing an international opportunity?
For a few years now, a Transportation Engineering colleague, Dr. Lutz Gaspers, Vice President of Study and Teaching from HFT Stuttgart (Stuttgart University of Applied Sciences) and I had been discussing ways of building on an existing academic exchange connection between UNB and HFTS. The challenge was that while HFT students would often travel to UNB, there had not been many UNB students travelling to Stuttgart, and the main reason was because there were no English language courses in engineering and the course schedules were slightly offset from UNB ones.
We decided the best opportunity was to create a “Transportation Field School”, where students from UNB would travel to HFTS for a week or so and have an accelerated learning experience provided in English, but also provide for a connection with German transportation students. We had a group of students ready to go in March 2020 , however the COVID-19 pandemic hit and all plans were cancelled. We revived the plans earlier this year (2022) when it seemed like safe travel might be a possibility again, and fortunately, windows of opportunity aligned in Canada and Germany to facilitate travel. Also fortunately, three of the students who had planned on going on the 2020 trip were able to join us on the 2022 trip.
Can you provide a brief overview of the international WIL work you were involved in? (location, purpose/context, partners, etc.).
As a transportation engineering and planning professional (and coordinator of the UNB Transportation Research Group), I felt an international education experience could teach my students more about different transportation systems than they would ever learn in a classroom.
I recall going on a similar trip with a student group and our professor from UNB 20 years ago and it was such a formative experience I wanted my students to have this as well.
A total of nine students from UNB joined the school and all took the experience for class credit. One student was already planning to work in Stuttgart for the summer, so it was a real bonus that they could join the trip and they stayed behind to work. We left April 29, 2022 (just after the last exam of the Winter Term) and returned home, May 7th. This ensured that the experience would fit in before summer work/graduation and align with the availability of our counterparts in Germany.
The travel experience itself, which included flying from Fredericton to Paris (via Toronto there, Montreal back), high speed train to Stuttgart, provided so many learning opportunities. Our host, Dr. Lutz Gaspers and his team at HFT Stuttgart created an incredible program for the week, which included visit to Stuttgart 21 rail station development (largest construction project in Europe), city tours using various transportation modes, Mercedes-Benz Museum, bus on the Autobahn, ferry ride, Zeppelin museum, and the Stuttgart Airport. We also had two workshops, including a transportation planning software workshop, and a morning workshop where German students and Canadian students worked in terms to present information about the transportation system in the other country. HFT Stuttgart put on an incredible experience for our students and provided them with 2.0 ECTS (European Credit Transfer and Accumulation).
We also could not have done the trip without Veronica McGinn, Global Learning and Engagement UNB. She helped us navigate all the processes to travel, had wonderful advice, and was critical in securing funding from the Summer Term in Europe Program that supported the travel of a number of students who otherwise would not have been able to attend.
What were the deliverables or outcomes of the experience?
There were two deliverables for the course: a technical report based on a pre-selected topic (such as high speed rail in Europe, transport accessibility, etc) where evidence for the report would come from the students’ own background research and documentation during the site visits; a trip report where students would document what they learned during the field school. Having the technical report helped focus the students’ efforts from the get-go. Even during our journey to Stuttgart, students were documenting things relating to their report topics and helped make the experience more meaningful and tangible.
What was the biggest take-away from your experience?
My biggest takeaway is that experiential education opportunities like this are integral, and engineering programs needs to be doing more of them. There was no possible way that students would have gained the knowledge, the learning, the cultural exchanges, and overall appreciation for the complexity of transportation systems without this in-person experience. The entirety of the experience from beginning to end provided learning opportunities and memories to last a lifetime and I was really impressed how well the group connected with each other and their counterparts in Germany. The students even met some German students who were planning to come to UNB on exchange this fall, and now the German students will have some familiar faces when they come here in September.
How did you share your experience/new knowledge upon return or completion of your work?
I shared daily updates and photos on social media (including LinkedIn) throughout the week as a way to tell the story of the great work of this field school. I am still looking at ways to tell the story of this trip, and this article is another way I am trying to get the message out. I expect to also have a slideshow to share with prospective students next year and Dr. Gaspers may join us in Fredericton.
What advice would you give to other WIL practitioners interested in international WIL?
I have a few things. First, the more we can do to make these experiences financially accessible to students, including broadening financial support, the better. We were fortunate to have been able to take advantage of one program, and I’ll keep my eyes open for other opportunities for when we do this again. Second, be sure to engage your Global Learning and Engagement (or equivalent) office early in the process; ours was key to getting this off the ground and being confident that we had our bases covered. Third, it is essential to have a partner or host university at your destination. In our case, not only did they create the program for the week we were with them, they provided great advice about where to stay, etc, and were our point of contact in case of any emergencies. We had lots of contingency plans which fortunately we didn’t need to use. Finally, aligning this with a course with tangible deliverables was key to having the students take in the experience in its entirety.