DeMatteis School of Engineering and Applied Science SEAS Dean's Update

DeMatteis Dean Sina Rabbany: Going Global

I want to welcome all students back for the Spring 2020 semester and share with you two new initiatives designed to help broaden the cultural awareness of our students – the DeMatteis OverSEAS Program and a international Student Exchange Program.

We continually strive to create programs at the DeMatteis School that prepare our students to become leaders in their fields. In our evaluation of engineering and computer science degree programs around the country, we have noticed that foreign language instruction isn’t being addressed. Language instruction nationwide is in retreat at all educational levels, and is often the easiest target of budget-cutters in school districts. Indeed historically, Americans have been averse to learning a foreign language because of the pervasiveness of English across a vast country of over three million square miles. Stubborn monolingualism is aided by the fact that English has become the most common international language in the sciences and in other fields. In Europe and in large parts of Asia by contrast, the juxtaposition of nations with distinct languages within a few hundred miles or less of travel has made multiple language proficiency almost a necessity. 

On the other hand, as I survey our roster of thirty full-time faculty, I note that there are native or fluent speakers of Arabic, Bulgarian, Chinese, Farsi, French, Greek, Korean, Rumanian and Spanish among them. English may be the mode of communication with colleagues and students in our hallways and classrooms, but there is certainly no uniformity of cultural background. And that is only natural: we may be based in a predominantly English-speaking country, but engineers and computer scientists live and work throughout the world, and having the ability to communicate with people in their native language is certainly a major plus, especially when so many companies have international footprints.

With that in mind, we have been working on ways to integrate language instruction into our curriculum. This year we will launch the DeMatteis OverSEAS program which is designed to prepare a select group of engineering students for careers with a global perspective. Candidates for the program are students who appreciate worldwide cultural diversity, and seek to promote the well-being of others through engineering solutions. The program, which begins during a student’s first year, is comprised of standard engineering coursework with a focused liberal arts concentration, and a capstone summer design experience, which is completed over the course of approximately eight weeks on-site in a Central or South American country.

The program culminates with a real-world engineering project in a Central or South American community – for example, building a bridge or a water distribution system. The program has been designed initially for our B.S. Civil Engineering students, who are working on capstones that revolve around infrastructure projects. Since students selected for the OverSEAS program will be completing their projects, on-site in a Spanish-speaking host country, being able to communicate with the local population is a must. As part of their curricular preparation, they will concentrate all their liberal arts courses on Spanish language studies, Central or South American history, economics, politics and literature. The first contingent of rising second-year students are preparing for their deployment on-site in 2022. We are very excited to launch this exciting new program and to see how it evolves.

As part of a second international initiative, we are also working on a student exchange program with several European universities. Although Hofstra has had several international study programs for majors in all fields for many years, the DeMatteis School has never had a formal study abroad program. The problem in the past has been aligning curricular offerings. Students interested in spending a semester or a year studying in another country generally have to stock up on humanities and social science classes while abroad, and therefore run the risk of falling behind in fulfilling degree requirements. We’re confident that students will be able to satisfy their degree requirements while studying abroad at a partner institution that offers a robust curriculum in engineering and computer science which correlates with our own programs. So this too is an exciting opportunity for adventurous students to experience life abroad while continuing their studies without a loss of continuity. 

We intend an education in the DeMatteis School to be far more than simply following a four-year curriculum leading to a degree that serves as a passport to the professional world. The implementation of these programs adds to the ever-growing range of opportunities that highly motivated students can draw from to enrich their educational experience at DeMatteis.

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