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Leading with Global Engineering: Dual Degree Programs Combine STEM & Languages


For many students, it’s hard to imagine that learning a language could ever intersect with a STEM career. In fact, the argument that people use more of either their “left brain” (the side of logic) or their “right brain” (the side of creativity) is still prevalent in the United States. However, this stereotyped notion of forced separation between liberal arts and science is absolutely not the case, and hasn’t been for some time. There are plenty of decades-old college programs that provide a pathway to fulfilling careers at the intersection of STEM and language.

Take, for example, The University of Rhode Island International Engineering Program (IEP). Having just celebrated its 30th anniversary, the five-year program allows students to earn two degrees simultaneously: a B.S. in an engineering discipline and a B.A. in Chinese, French, German, Italian, or Spanish. The results have been astounding. 

Payam Fahr, a mechanical engineering and German major, studied for a year in Germany through IEP and interned at BMW. He explains why the program is an asset to any future engineer: 

“Not only do you walk away from this program with two degrees, but you get to become proficient with the language and actually do relevant work experience in the field you’re studying in another language. It looks absolutely amazing to any employer.”

In fact, many alumni find the experience so rewarding, they choose to return abroad after graduation. Sarah Wood, for example, is already looking forward to returning abroad after a year of studying ocean engineering and Chinese in China:

“I love the fact that in a few years I’ll be able to go to China and I won’t have any culture shock. I will be able to get a job in ocean engineering in China and I’ll feel as comfortable in China as I do in America.”

In actuality, however, the program wasn’t created to push students to pursue international opportunities after graduation, but instead to enrich their careers at home.  By understanding other cultures, program graduates can better position themselves to global companies headquartered in the United States. Dr. Sigrid Berka, the Executive Director of IEP, explains that “the value to globally operating companies for bilingual engineers is that they can be used as cultural ambassadors between engineering cultures in America and engineering cultures in France, Spain, Mexico, China and Germany.”

Still unconvinced about a STEM/language program? Scientific advancements rely on those who are creative and innovative—using both their “left brain” and “right brain.” Dr. Berka explains:

“If you can learn from other disciplines like art, history, language, or environmental science and take the bits and pieces and apply them to engineering, the innovation process will be much more powerful.”

Are you ready to become a global engineer? Check out our Engineering Sector Profile to discover the different types of engineering  roles that benefit from language and cultural  proficiency. Then explore some of the leading global engineering university programs on our College & University Programs page. Or perhaps you’re already an engineering major and ready to jump into an immersive experience abroad? How about completing an international internship over a semester or summer!

Have you used language or cultural skills to enhance communication about another subject matter—at school or on the job? We want to hear from you! Tell us about it @LeadWLanguages on social media.