A Foreign Experience

By Darayus K.

When I first walked in to room 1200 of the Kim Engineering Building on the University of Maryland, College Park campus, at 1:00pm on the first day of September, 2017, I saw more unique faces and appearances than I ever had in my life. As myself and the rest of the students arranged ourselves into a circle—a class formation I had not seen used since my high school humanities courses—I heard mumbles and whispers in a wide variety of accents and even languages. This first day of class was already shaping up to be a surreal experience, and our lecture had not even begun.

I come from central New Jersey, a region in the United States which I have always considered to by one of the most diverse in the country, with people from all sorts of countries, race and creed living in neighborhoods, running errands, going to school, going to work, all with little issue. Any issues regarding “diversity” or “immigrant” were nonexistent in the region I grew up in. Despite this upbringing, I was still surprised to see the amount of people from different cultures and backgrounds that I did in ENME467. The main difference between ENME467’s flavor of diversity and the diversity back home that I found, was that while everyone back home shared the common thread of “daily life” (errands, work, school etc.), the common thread that was shared among the diverse students of ENME467 was one of inspiring and being involved with social change.

From learning about the end of traditional work due to artificial intelligence (covered in both our required reading book, and Dr. Jungho Kim’s lecture), to the latest industrial revolution (additive manufacturing) there are many issues arising in today’s world which cannot be handled solely through engineering tools. Every student in this class, whether they were from Spain, Denmark, Baltimore City, or New Jersey like myself, came into this class ready to learn about and enact social change. Social change, as we learned, is the alternative toolbox an engineer needs, besides their equations, software, machines and data, the soft side of engineering must be addressed. The social and political impacts of the technologies that have been created by, and will be created by engineers must be addressed. With virtual and augmented reality technologies, for example, we are changing the way we interact with our world, and the way we perceive our world. As engineers we need to be aware of the major policy and privacy issues that could ensue with such technologies. These skills are not taught in our Fluid Dynamics, or Electronics classes, but are taught in this one, amazing course. These skills are meant to diversify our mind on a deeper level, introducing us to concepts normally foreign to us as engineers daily.

This issue of foreign experiences played a critical role throughout my time in this class. It began with literally working with four exchange students from Spain on our class project, and learning about Spanish culture and work ethic, continuing with a course format foreign to me as an engineer who has taken mainly technical courses since beginning college, leading to a unique project of which I had never undertaken, either in academic or work situations, all the way to learning about a foreign concept each and every lecture. The foreign course format allowed me to voice my opinions and hear the opinions of others, with us sitting in a circle as opposed to traditional lecture rows that hamper discussion. The (relatively) foreign social and philanthropic concepts also taught me a lot. All of the difficulties of giving away money were explained in a way that we would not only understand the considerable effort it takes to solve such problems, but also the importance. This semester of foreign experiences has not only helped me grow and expand as an engineer, but as a person in an increasingly global society as well.

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