Exchange program creates 'trans-Atlantic applied science network in engineering'

February 17, 2017

MIDDLETOWN, Pa. — As part of a university exchange program, Marwin Kripp, an industrial engineering student from Hochschule Darmstadt University of Applied Sciences in Darmstadt, Germany, came to Penn State Harrisburg during the fall 2016 semester. He not only learned more about engineering and business management, but he had an opportunity to make many friends, play on the Penn State Harrisburg men’s soccer team, and travel.

He was also struck by the differences and similarities of learning in the U.S. and Germany. He said he was impressed that the professors at Penn State Harrisburg know their students' names, that all students have an adviser to guide them through their academic career, and that numerous progress checks take place throughout the semester to help assure that students are learning.

He said the German model is different, noting that there is "just one final exam at the end” of a course. 

Begun in 2008, the exchange program between Penn State Harrisburg and Hochschule Darmstadt University encourages students from each institution to attend the other for a semester. Students receive a $2,500 stipend from Penn State, according to AB Shafaye, chair of the electrical and electrical engineering technology programs in Penn State Harrisburg’s School of Science, Engineering, and Technology. They can also apply for grants from the partner university and DAAD, the German Academic Exchange Service. The DAAD grant, first offered in 2015, extends and expands the original partnership between Penn State Harrisburg and the university in Darmstadt.

The goal is to create “a trans-Atlantic applied science network in engineering.” In addition to the semester-long exchanges for students, the grant also supports faculty exchange travel and shorter-term study tours to Germany for Penn State Harrisburg students, and student funding and guest lecturers for Darmstadt's International Summer University, which focuses on energy efficient and sustainable buildings.  

Shannon McBeth, a recent participant from Penn State Harrisburg who studied in Germany for a semester, said of the exchange: “I would say the experience is something I would not give up for anything. I have seen beautiful places, met interesting people, and am finishing up my degree at the same time.”

McBeth said students came to Darmstadt from Europe, South America and Asia.“I have gotten to know people from every corner of the world,” she said.

Jay Mehta is a double exchange student. He came to Penn State Harrisburg through a partnership with Pune University in India, and now he is studying in Darmstadt. His enthusiasm shows in the exclamation-point-filled email he recently sent to Shafaye.

“It's really great over here in Germany!!!” Mehta wrote. “The most exciting lab over here is the High Voltage Lab where they have some massive Tesla coils that can go up to 1800 KV!! It was really cool to see the arcs of such high voltages!! ... I have registered for some very exciting courses.”

Mehta said the city is lively, public transportation is convenient, and there are historical churches, interesting architecture, markets, and restaurants.

Shafaye said Penn State Harrisburg’s electrical and electrical engineering technology programs have had a very positive experience with the exchange program. Most Penn State Harrisburg students visit Germany their last semester, because they can then take some German graduate courses taught in English. They are also offered an intensive course in German language at Darmstadt before the semester begins.

The curriculum is different between the two universities, so students have to work out courses with their academic advisers.

All of the students get to experience a different environment, he said, lauding Germany’s “fantastic” lab equipment as one of many positive opportunities for Penn State Harrisburg students studying there.

For the German students in the U.S., he said, there is more accountability in the classroom than they are accustomed to at home. “They have a lot more work here, and we follow through with homework,” Shafaye said. “The students seem to like the way it works.”

At Penn State Harrisburg, Kripp was able to complete a capstone project, designing a smartphone app to control door locks. It still has a few bugs to work out, he said, but he is confident he will get it to work with the help of his technical adviser. He also took management courses.

“It's a great experience,” Kripp said, summarizing his experience in the exchange program. And, his advice to other Penn State Harrisburg engineering students considering a foreign exchange: “Just do it.”

For more information about the program, visit the Global Penn State link. Find additional information on study abroad opportunities by visiting the School of Science, Engineering, and Technology webpage.

Last Updated April 19, 2017