Students explore engineering structures in China
One request from an NDSU student six years ago created an ongoing opportunity for dozens of civil engineering students to explore some of the most complex and remarkable engineering structures in the world.
A student asked Wei Lin, associate professor of civil engineering at NDSU, to take them to China to see Three Gorges Dam and he thought, “Why not?” said Lin.
The student had just watched a film in class highlighting China’s Three Gorges Dam, the world’s largest dam. By the middle of the following semester, Lin accompanied the student and 11 other civil engineering students on a two-week journey across China to the dam, the 2008 Beijing Olympic stadium known as the Bird’s Nest, and The Great Wall. Since then, Lin has led two more groups to China as part of a senior-level civil engineering course.
Mike Telste, a senior from Minneota, Minn., who had never traveled out of the country before, jumped at the chance to go on the trip last year. Telste said he and his classmates understand that employers want to hire people with a global perspective. “I didn’t even need to think about it. An opportunity to see China and learn? What is there to think about?” he said. Lin agrees companies want students who have initiative and who are interested in global issues. “They are not just looking for a 4.0 student anymore. They want a new kind of employee who is globally aware,” Lin said.
The course is not mandatory nor is it offered regularly. Just as it took one student’s initiative to get the trip started, it takes a grassroots effort by students to keep the class going. “I don’t recruit students. I want the students to initiate the trip. It had to come from their interest,” said Lin, a Beijing native. “It is their course.”
Leslee Storlie, a civil engineering student from Hastings, Minn., can attest to the fact that the course is student driven. She took the course last spring and said Lin lets students decide where they want to visit and want they want to learn. “If we want to learn some Chinese, he teaches us that. If we want to learn history or background on what we will visit – that is what he teaches us. He is an amazing professor.”
Each group has stopped in Beijing and stayed at Lin’s alma mater at Beijing University of Civil Engineering and Architecture. They attended a class and participated in activities with local students. For Storlie, meeting with other students was a highlight of the trip. “To converse with people who are your age and studying your major. Their hopes and dreams are just like yours but they are living in a completely different part of the world,” she said. “It was more than learning about engineering – it was learning about another culture.”
Storlie said all the students who go to China pass on what they learned to other civil engineering students. The class gives informational presentations to engineering clubs and finishes the semester with a special event with their parents.
“It’s an amazing experience. I hope students continue to ask him to offer the course,” said Storlie.