New Program Abroad Gives Students Work Experience in Barcelona, Shanghai

Engineering and business students at The University of Texas at Austin now have a way to gain professional experience overseas in two of the world’s most dynamic cities, thanks to a new summer internship abroad program.

The BE Global program is designed for business and engineering majors (the B and E respectively in the name) and offers opportunities in either Barcelona, Spain, an up-and-coming technology hub, or Shanghai, China, a growing world financial center.

The program was created through UT’s International Office as a partnership between the Cockrell School of Engineering and the McCombs School of Business to offer international work experience to students in both schools.

BE Global matches students to companies that best suit their interests, career goals and qualifications and then provides them with housing and work visa assistance. Students are set up with a professional networking experience while abroad, including company visits and business seminars.

A total of 47 UT Austin students participated in BE Global’s inaugural summer program this year. Eight engineering students and 10 business students interned in Barcelona, and six engineering students and 23 business students interned in Shanghai.

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UT Austin students show off their Longhorn pride on the Great Wall of China while in the country as part of the BE Global program, a summer abroad program that places business and engineering students in internships in Shanghai and Barcelona. Photo courtesy of Charles Douglas, electrical and computer engineering senior.

In a global economy, it is necessary for all students to understand how business is conducted internationally, said Helena Wilkins-Versalovic, senior program coordinator for the Cockrell School’s International Engineering Education office.

“What’s unique about this program is our alliance between these two particular colleges, because of the synergy between business and engineering students. Many Cockrell School students want to become entrepreneurs,” she said. “This program is innovative in offering a professional experience while providing a successful and safe experience abroad.”

Larry Phu, director of finance and administration for the International Office, said the program is a customized package that includes the internship placement, pre-departure health and safety workshops, professional and networking events, housing, language classes, cultural and social activities, visa processing and 24 hour-support from in-country staff. Although they have an English-speaking supervisor, students in each program take part in language classes and cultural activities to help them become fully immersed in their internship.

“This internship program focuses on giving them professional experience abroad,” Phu said. “The whole world is becoming more globalized, so we want students to be exposed to an international work setting.”

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Students on a company visit to Roca in Barcelona, Spain.

Though the internships are unpaid and do not offer course credit in the Cockrell School, working abroad gives both engineering and business students a significant advantage when applying for jobs upon graduation, Phu said.

“The work students are doing abroad is a wide variety of tasks related to their major,” he said. “It’s not like making copies or getting coffee. Most students are using this internship as a way to either get a better internship next summer, or to increase their employability when they graduate.”

Jonathan Lala, a civil engineering junior, worked in Barcelona this summer for a solar panel startup company called CSolar EStructures. During his internship, Lala designed solar panel installations and translated documents into English.

“I wanted to study abroad but my possibilities are limited as an engineer, because it’s more important to get an internship in the summer [versus studying abroad],” Lala said. “This way I could kill two birds with one stone.”

To participate in BE Global, students fill out an initial application and pre-placement form detailing why they want to work abroad and what they want their work experience to be like. Phu said he takes the pre-placement forms very seriously into consideration before accepting a student into the program.

Once a student is accepted, he or she is matched to a company. In some cases, there is a traditional job interview via phone or Skype to determine if the intern candidate is a good fit.

Mechanical engineering junior Nicole Chorba interned at a startup in Shanghai this summer that works on breakthrough LED technology, coordinating with Chinese factories and western clients. Two of the products she worked on included emergency lighting for an Australian client and grow lights for a client in Canada.

Chorba said all 29 students on the Shanghai trip became fast friends and were able to rely on one another for support in a country that differs greatly from Texas.

“I’ve thoroughly enjoyed getting to know the other UT students on this trip,” Chorba said. “Shanghai is a fast-growing world financial hub and the perfect place to have an internship for college students seeking a professional, cultural and all-around enriching experience.”

Business students, who must have an internship to graduate, can get credit through the BE Global program as well. Sarah Vickery, international business and Hispanic studies senior, said interning abroad has been an eye-opening opportunity that has allowed her to use her skills in a fast-paced, real-world setting. She interned at a manufacturing and logistics company based in Shanghai.

“By interning abroad, I have been exposed to different business practices than I would have back home,” Vickery said. “The world is obviously much larger than just the U.S., and China particularly is impacting the global economy in recent years. So being able to witness that first-hand has greatly improved my understanding of what I learn sitting in a UT classroom.”

To apply for the BE Global program, students must be in good academic standing and be considered sophomores by credit hours. Applications for the program are due Dec. 1, and scholarships are available. Check the BE Global page for updates on summer 2014.