RIT students participate in engineering and cultural program in France

New RIT study abroad program takes place in one of Rochester’s Sister Cities

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Matthew Marshall

Patrick Villaume, Matthew Marshall, Hussain Alabandi, Victor Sanchez and Samantha Huynh gather at the fortress at St. Malo, sometimes called the City of Corsairs, on the Brittany coast in northern France. They participated in a summer study abroad program through the Kate Gleason College of Engineering and the Institut National des Sciences Appliquées, an engineering school in Rennes.

On their very first trip to France, several RIT engineering students traveled to Rennes, Rochester’s first Sister City, and experienced the historic region most known for William the Conqueror and D-Day at Omaha Beach. They were welcomed by city leaders of Rennes and then began a four-week study abroad program at the Institut National des Sciences Appliquées, a public engineering school in the city.

The students participated in a series of engineering and liberal arts classes at the college. They also lived in the dorms and traveled with members of the college through the Brittany and Normandy regions during their stay.

The first group of the summer program included Hussain Alabondi, Samantha Huynh, Victor Sanchez and Patrick Villaume, all students in the Kate Gleason College of Engineering, and Matthew Marshall, associate professor of industrial and systems engineering.

“The students were excellent representatives for Rochester and RIT. The hope is that this summer program will grow and that the students will feel comfortable to do the formal study abroad program at INSA as a matriculated student,” says Marshall, who taught one of the engineering classes at the Institut and traveled with the group on the different field trips offered.

“I was most looking forward to exploring the country and broadening my ability to speak French,” says Patrick Villaume, a fourth-year mechanical engineering student. “Hands down, my personal excursion to LeMans for the 24-hour race was a great trip. It did help that it was on my birthday.

“Some of the other areas we enjoyed while on our trip were visiting the World War II Memorial at Caen the day after President Obama was there for the anniversary, visiting St. Malo on the coast of Brittany to observe the typical coast, visiting the ancient Monastery at Mont Saint Michel, and the island tour of L' Isle de Groix by bicycle,” says Villaume.

“This was my first trip to Europe, not to mention my first trip overseas,” says Samantha Huynh, a third-year mechanical engineering student. “I was looking forward to new people and experiences. I had heard so much about students learning more about themselves in these trips and I was looking forward to a similar self-discovery. I was interested in the European style of study, having heard so much about the differences. I couldn't wait to try my hand at their trade!”

RIT is encouraging more of its students to participate in study abroad programs. Having international experience on a resume is important for students as they enter the work force.

“The RIT/INSA student exchange program was developed about 10-years ago and is targeted at fourth- and fifth-year engineering and computer science students,” says Margaret Anderson, assistant dean for student services in the Kate Gleason College of Engineering. “The college developed the INSA Summer Program to give first- or second-year students an opportunity to experience life at INSA while beginning to study the French language.”

The college plans to develop additional programs so that eventually at least 20 percent of engineering students will graduate having completed some sort of international experience while at RIT.

INSA is an engineering school that has developed more than 60 worldwide partnership agreements with colleges, including RIT. Currently RIT hosts about 12 students annually from INSA.

“The Rennes community was very open and welcoming to anyone willing to speak their language and ready to have a good time in their beautiful city,” says Villaume. Rennes is the capital of Brittany in northwest France, about 200 miles from Paris. It was the first of Rochester’s 11 Sister Cities, the relationship formalized in 1958 by then Rochester mayor Peter Barry.

“I would tell people doing the same trip to immerse yourself in the culture, language and everything to benefit fully from the trip at hand,” Villaume added. “I learned so much, and saw so much just by being willing to listen and interact with everyone and everything that I saw.”