Student Spotlight: Patrick Duda

04/18/18

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Patrick Duda, a Penn State mechanical engineering senior, studied abroad three times during his academic career, but never missed a THON or football season.

“I chose non-traditional methods to study abroad that people don’t normally think of,” said Duda. “I wanted to be at University Park for fall and spring because I’m a huge football and THON fan. So these opportunities let me study abroad, have an internship, and still be back to campus when I wanted.”

Duda spent summer 2016 at the Hochschule Pforzheim University in Pforzheim, Germany. The six-week program combined coursework on the German auto industry and German culture. Duda learned everything from automotive supply chain management to how to order a coffee at a café in German. Trips related to classwork were embedded within the program, followed by discussion afterward. On one trip, Duda visited the Porsche museum and then went to the Porsche factory next door. The opportunity made a lasting impact and attested to the importance of connecting academics to real-world scenarios.

“It was a great experience to see what we were doing in the classroom being utilized in the industry right after we learned about it,” said Duda.

On another excursion, Duda and his classmates experienced Berlin through a guided tour in a trabi — a car made of plastic mounted on a one-piece steel framework, often seen as a symbol of East Germany.

“Our tour guide grew up in East Berlin and when the wall came down he couldn’t get capitalism through his mind — how a product in one store in a part of the city could cost like a dollar and then in another be four,” explained Duda.

Experiencing global history from another perspective was an enlightening experience, as well as working with non-English speakers. Duda’s communication abilities were put to the test.

“[Studying abroad] really helped me with my communication skills. I had to break down what I was working on in simple terms to communicate to people who weren’t native English speakers about my project,” said Duda. This skill proved useful not only for additional trips abroad but also working with clients and colleagues.

The second time, Duda studied abroad in summer 2017 for ENGR 422, an embedded class part of his engineering leadership development minor. Students worked in virtual teams, with half in Penn State and half in South Africa, to complete a real-world project and then present in-person to the client. The project made use of smart agricultural technology on local farms that allowed farmers to access farm data remotely on a smartphone application.

Much like his project in Germany, Duda’s South African project was very technical, and in order to communicate with his non-native English speaking teammates and clients, he had to break things down into simple terms. This made Duda take a “look at the big picture, but see all the little bits and how they fit into the overall project as well.” Duda also had the opportunity to work with individuals from different cultures and backgrounds who weren’t as familiar with certain forms of technology as he anticipated.

“In a presentation I made, I showed a picture of a drone flying over trees. I was told I couldn’t show that to the audience — mainly local farmers — as they would’ve lost their minds because it wasn’t something they had seen before. I had to find a different way to explain it so they could understand and not be afraid,” said Duda.

This experience helped Duda learn how to speak about engineering and science to people from non-STEM fields, which will be beneficial in the future when dealing with companies and clients, who won’t always have a STEM background and will likely be from a culture different than Duda’s own.

“Once you experience a different culture you’re more open to another. In engineering, you’re going to work with people from different cultures, so having that experience is important. You get a better understanding of how people interact, and that’s key in being able to work together to create the best product,” said Duda.

Working in a virtual team was a huge plus for Duda as well. It’s not an experience many get before they go into a field and will stand out on his résumé, in addition to studying abroad.

“Recruiters always notice the study abroad on my résumé,” said Duda. “It says a lot about you if you study abroad because it also shows you’re willing to go out of your comfort zone. Being able to show that is big.”

Over summer 2018, Duda will return to South Africa for the same ENGR 422 class. This time Duda will serve as a mentor to the Penn State students and coach them through their virtual course.

Duda spent a week in Kenya over his 2018 spring break to present and deliver a project to a client, created in conjunction with a class. On this trip, Duda was able to connect with his client on a more personal level; he got to visit the client”s factory, meet their family, and hear what it was like growing up in Kenya. It was a unique experience to receive from a client and allowed Duda first-hand to see the impact he helped make.

For students considering studying abroad, Duda — a Global Engineering Fellow — advises to plan early and take opportunities that are presented through the College of Engineering.

“It’s much easier to get classes to count if you plan early. I knew the classes I had to take and I did it early so I could fit in a minor and alleviate my coursework my senior year. You can later, but it just makes it easier or less stressful to plan early,” said Duda.

There are many study abroad options open to students, both traditional and non-traditional, that can enhance coursework and provide real-world experiences. Funding is also available, especially for students traveling to non-traditional locations such as South America, Asia and Africa. Contact the Office of Global Engineering Engagement to find out more about studying abroad as an engineering student.

 

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Hannah Hein

Patrick Duda stands on a bridge in Amsterdam.

Visiting Amsterdam. Image provided by Patrick Duda.

Patrick Duda visiting Munich

Visiting Munich. Image provided by Patrick Duda.

“Once you experience a different culture you’re more open to another. In engineering, you’re going to work with people from different cultures, so having that experience is important. You get a better understanding of how people interact, and that’s key in being able to work together to create the best product."

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The School of Engineering Design, Technology, and Professional Programs (SEDTAPP) delivers effective engineering education through active, collaborative, project-based, and professionally oriented classroom experiences. SEDTAPP offers a variety of programs that partner faculty, students, and industry in the study of real-life engineering problems. Our programs teach students to solve real-life problems with innovative solutions. 

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