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Female students posing for a photo
Paige Braude and other engineering students in the Rising Sophomore Abroad Program visit a monument at the equator in Ecuador. Top row: Kathryn Robertson, Sarah Wells, Caroline Kersey, Madeleine Warendorf, and Lauren Hall. Bottom row: Braude, Candice Ferguson, and Elizabeth Benos.

Simon Award recognizes College of Engineering's Rising Sophomore Abroad Program

In Santiago, Chile, Paige Braude learned about devices called isolators, seismic safeguards that basically serve as shock absorbers for buildings in earthquake-prone regions.

In the mountains of Ecuador, the civil and environmental engineering under­­graduate watched as engineers tackled the challenges of placing piping among the Andean peaks.

Braude gained these experiences during a two-week trip to South America, part of the College of Engineering’s Rising Sophomore Abroad Program, Virginia Tech’s largest study abroad program.

Led by the Department of Engineering Education, the Rising Sophomore Abroad Program was awarded the 2019 Senator Paul Simon Spotlight Award by NAFSA: Association of International Educators. Named after the late Sen. Paul Simon of Illinois, the awards recognize outstanding innovation and accomplishment in campus internationalization.

David Knight, the director of the program, said, “Globalization at Virginia Tech means working toward becoming a global land-grant university, where our students and faculty work hand in hand with community stakeholders to brainstorm and develop viable solutions to the world’s most pressing, complex challenges.” 

Geared toward first-year and transfer students, the program integrates a 3-credit on-campus, global engineering course with multiple concurrent tracks of short-term international experiences. It gives students opportunities to expand their global competencies by learning about differences in political, technological, social, cultural, educational, and environmental systems.

By providing students with an international experience and increasing their comfort level with global travel, the program promotes more extended international academic experiences such as internships, study abroad programs, or faculty-led programs. 

“The Simon Award recognizes just a handful of universities each year for their internationalization efforts, and it is a tremendous achievement for Virginia Tech to be among them. The program is a strong example of innovation in curriculum development and raises the bar for Virginia Tech’s global education portfolio,” said Theresa Johansson, director of the Global Education Office.  

Last year, the program held concurrent tracks in China; the United Kingdom and Ireland; Ecuador, Peru, and Chile; Italy, Switzerland, and Germany; South Africa; and New Zealand and Australia.