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Students study abroad, win awards

Several students in the USF Education Abroad (EA) program have taken its slogan – “Say yes to global opportunities” – to heart, winning awards for their work overseas.

Angela Krause and Madelyn Rubin, civil engineering students from the Bolivia International Capstone Design (ICD) program – a branch of EA – won the 2010 Florida Water Environment Association (FWEA) Water/Wastewater Student Design Competition in Orlando last month.

The duo competed against colleges such as the University of Florida and the University of Central Florida and will move on to the national competition in New Orleans in October, which is sponsored by a group of 40,000 water quality experts from around the world known as the Water Environment Federation.

Their winning design, similar to a traditional septic tank, catches and treats waste that flows from a slaughterhouse into a major river in the town of Cochabamba, Bolivia – home to about 42,000 people. The waste, which is exposed to the open air and poses major health concerns, is filtered through a series of chambers that require little electricity or money to maintain.

“When you’re a student, you’re kind of on the outside, but it means a lot to have your work so well-received by people who are now your peers, in the ‘real world,'” said Rubin, who graduated this spring. “Water is a global necessity and a basic human need.”

Through the ICD program, civil engineers like Krause and Rubin travel to developing countries to create engineering projects that benefit the native people.

Director of EA Amanda Maurer said that all the projects created for Bolivia will be given to its government in hopes that they will be implemented in rural communities.

After two weeks spent in Bolivia during the summer, students in the ICD program, who also partner with students from the Universidad Privada Del Valle (UNIVALLE), a local university in Bolivia, return to USF for the fall semester to work with USF faculty members and practicing civil engineers to further develop their projects.

“UNIVALLE has a working agreement with two municipalities (in Bolivia),” said Linda Phillips, an ICD Bolivia instructor. “The municipalities identify the projects of priority with an estimated budget and schedule. By having (Krause and Rubin’s) design, there’s more chance that the projects will be funded.”

Krause and Rubin are not the only USF students to take home an award after studying abroad.

Victor Florez, a sophomore studying Mandarin, took home first place in the 2010 Chinese Bridge Competition for College Students (Southern U.S. Region) in March. Florez participated in a three-part test of his Chinese language abilities, which included prepared speech, question and answers about Chinese culture and a talent display.

During the competition, held in USF’s Marshall Student Center for the first time since its inception in 2002, Florez captured the audience with his Chinese tongue twisters.

“Although the Chinese program is relatively young, the teaching methods and student exposure to learning the language in the culture surpasses all other universities at this level,” he said.

Florez began his Chinese studies through a two-tiered Chinese language and culture program taught by professor Eric Shepherd. During tier I, students spend six weeks at Ocean University in Qingdao, China, where they live in dormitories with Chinese roommates and are submersed in Chinese culture, Maurer said.

After six weeks, students are sent home to enhance their Mandarin vocabulary and prepare for tier II, which includes a 10-week stay in China. Students are also placed in a Chinese organization for an internship.

Students who have been in the program for four years spend their final year studying at Nankai University in Tianjin, China.

USF offers EA programs in 25 different countries that can be as short as a week or as long as a year. The University will offer a new online information database and application process in the fall to encourage more students to take advantage of its services, Maurer said.

“Nobody ever regrets the experience, and usually we hear that it was the best and most memorable experience they have ever had,” she said.