New Study Abroad Program Designed for Engineering Students

New Duke-In program provides a study abroad option for engineering students that also counts toward graduation course requirements

Studying abroad just got a lot easier for engineering students at Duke University. Thanks to a new summer class designed specifically for engineers, students can knock out required courses while living in Costa Rica.

The new class is part of the Duke-In study abroad program, which offers classes that are different from most study abroad programs because they are taught by Duke faculty and count as Duke courses.

“It’s not a transfer class that appears as a Duke class on a transcript,” said Bob Malkin, professor of the practice of biomedical engineering, who is one of the designers of the new course. “Duke-In classes are not ‘like’ Duke classes or ‘equivalent’ to Duke classes, they are Duke classes.”

There are dozens of Duke-In programs around the world studying subjects like Romance languages, Asian culture and exotic architecture. These classes, however, typically take place in the fall and don’t count toward graduation for an engineer, making it difficult to take them while remaining on schedule. 

The new course changes that. Students will be able to take BME 271 (ECE 280) or MATH 353 and HSS course (SP92), moving themselves well along the way toward graduation. But instead of knocking these classes out in laboratories and classrooms in Durham, students will immerse themselves in the culture and field work of Costa Rica.

BME 271 is a biomedical engineering course with a decidedly electrical and computer engineering bent. The required signals and systems class teaches a variety of tools, such as mathematical and computer programming solutions to problems like drug delivery or debugging circuits.

“The programming experience is beneficial no matter what problems they’re attacking,” said Libby Bucholz, a lecturer in biomedical engineering and a teacher for the course.

Instead of learning these tools in Durham, students in the Duke-In class will complete fieldwork involving Costa Rican volcanoes and birds. While visiting volcanoes like Poas and Irazu, students will measure their seismic activity and analyze their recordings in the frequency domain. And in the jungles of the Costa Rican National Park, students will write software to identify some of the 857 bird species through their calls alone by analyzing their songs with time-frequency plots.

The unique study abroad opportunity will be offered during the second summer session every year starting in 2017. Students can take courses during the first summer session on campus, such as Organic Chemistry or Spanish (as the program is homestay based in a Spanish-speaking country, some Spanish knowledge is helpful going in.)  Another option is to complete an internship the first summer session and the study abroad program the second. 

While the program is designed with engineers in mind, it is open to all Duke students across campus. Organizers expect the program to be very popular, however, and it will be limited to the first 25 students who sign up.

“The course takes advantage of the unique environment of Costa Rica,” said Bucholz. “You can’t get that experience in a laboratory at Duke.”

“Almost one-third of Pratt students already get some kind of study abroad experience during their time at Duke, and we hope the addition of this class will increase those numbers even further,” said Malkin. “Studying abroad is massively important for engineers. For students to work toward the application of science to help humanity, they need to understand the humans they are trying to help.”