UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – Michaella Caruso always knew she wanted to study abroad in college. Now in her junior year at Penn State, she has already studied abroad three times — to China, France and Kenya.
“Having exposure at a young age to international experiences really developed my passion for traveling, meeting new people, trying to understand new cultures and immersing myself in the lifestyles that other people live around the globe,” she said. “I always knew I wanted to have an educational abroad experience where I could study and take courses in other cultures to help further and deepen my knowledge of the world.”
Caruso, majoring in engineering science with a minor in engineering leadership development, was living in West Halls on the University Park campus when she noticed a bathroom “stall story” about an ENGR 118 month-long study abroad program in China. After her mom told her she should go for it, Caruso submitted her application, and sure enough, she was invited to join the program.
That summer, in between her freshman and sophomore year, China was her classroom. “There was no traditional classroom setting for the course, so we were interacting directly with the people, trying all types of traditional cuisine and admiring both old and new engineering feats — from the ancient Great Wall of China and terracotta warriors to the modern skyscrapers of Shanghai and the 22-mile Hangzhou Bay Bridge,” she recalled.
They also toured an oil lab at ExxonMobil, were on the plant floor of Ford Motor Company watching cars being assembled, and were shown around Rockwell Automation’s large plant in Dalian.
“Being a freshman, I appreciated the exposure to different fields of engineering, because going into college, I had changed my major a few times — I was biomedical engineering then chemical engineering — when I finally settled on engineering science. ESci allows me to have a solid foundation in the three fundamental fields of engineering — mechanical, electrical and engineering mechanics — while customizing my education with technical electives of my choosing,” she said. “Having that opportunity to see what’s out there in terms of engineering — what you can do with it — was really valuable to me.”
During the summer between her sophomore and junior year, Caruso studied abroad in France for six weeks. This time it was more of a traditional program, where she took two courses — one toward her engineering leadership minor and another in French culture.
Caruso’s third international study experience took place in Kenya over spring break, where she and her fellow classmates presented the capstone project they’d been working on all fall semester — a baobab processing machine — to their client, Amisha Patel, who runs a startup company manufacturing baobab powder and oil.
In an ongoing capstone project from previous semesters, Caruso’s team was tasked with manufacturing the machines and testing new components. Once complete, the team brought the machine to Kenya and assembled it for Amisha. When it came time to run the machine, Caruso’s team experienced their fastest run time ever.
“In 28 seconds, we were able to put one kilogram of powder through the machine, separating out the seeds to leave behind the high-quality powder product ready for packaging,” she said. “Hearing my professor say that this is the best, most professional iteration of the machine he’s ever seen a team manufacture was exhilarating. Our client, Amisha, could not stop radiating excitement over her new machine, as her entire baobab powder business relies on it. To get such rewarding feedback on something you’ve worked so hard for and knowing that it’s changing people’s lives in low-income communities is an amazing feeling.”
And while that moment has been deemed her favorite study abroad memory, Caruso says China was her favorite study abroad location. “In China, I not only made lifelong friendships, but I also learned so much about what I am capable of accomplishing and how rewarding it can be to push yourself to try something new,” she said.
Now in her fourth semester as a Global Engineering Fellow, Caruso has recently been promoted to a Mentor Fellow role.
“There’s this impression that engineering is such a demanding major that doesn’t allow students adequate time to study abroad, but I am proof that it is entirely possible to fit it into your academic schedule,” she said. “The biggest thing is planning early — the earlier you plan the better you’re going to set yourself up for getting into your top program choice and making sure it correctly aligns with your major.”
To help students make their study abroad experience happen, the Office of Global Engineering Engagement works with them and their schedules to ensure they get the experience they are looking for. Funding is also available, especially for students who travel to a nontraditional location, like South America, Asia and Africa.
“There are countless benefits to studying abroad. It has made me a lot more comfortable in adapting to new environments,” she said. “Business is global, and you have to be able to put on those global lenses and see problems on a higher level than everyone else because that’s the way you’re going to solve the big problems. You have to be able to work with others, and a huge part of that is understanding who they are, where they come from and how to work with them.”
Caruso does have one regret when it comes to studying abroad — not doing more of them.
“I am blessed to say that my educational career at Penn State sent me to three different continents," she said. "I have three more to go and have made it a personal goal to hit those three before I’m 28 years old, so I’m hoping to make that deadline!”