This International Research Experiences for Students (IRES) projects engages undergraduate students in an intensive six-week research program in Mexico, with the overarching goal of enhancing students' research skills and cultural literacy in an internationally emerging field of engineering. Under the mentorship of Drs. Neale Smith and Beatriz Murrieta Cortés of the Instituto Tecnológico y de Estudios Superiores de Monterrey (ITESM), six U.S. students per year will investigate radio-frequency identification (RFID) applications in health care, aerospace manufacturing environments, and inter-modal and warehousing logistics. Specific research themes include security and inventory control in hospital settings, real-time adjustments of the supply chain in aerospace manufacturing facilities, and tracking the delivery of products from supplier to customer in multistep transportation systems. Students will also be involved in pre-trip and on-site orientations, a research methods seminar focusing on the Design for Six Sigma (DFSS-R) approach, graduate student development seminars, and oral and written presentations. Spanish language instruction and cultural activities will also be an integral part of the program.

This international research collaboration brings together researchers at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) and ITESM, along with industry partners such as the Hospital San José, Bombardier, and Werner Global Logistics. UNL will recruit a diverse group of undergraduate students to participate, with strong representation of women and underrepresented minorities. Results from the experience will be shared by students and faculty at educational conferences, through annual reports, and the program website. This partnership will also allow the further testing of models and innovations that have significant practical implications for U.S. - Mexico trade.

This award is co-funded by the Office of International Science and Engineering (OISE) and the Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR).

Project Report

The objective of this application is to create an International Research Experience for Student in Mexico at 1) Tecnológico de Monterrey, Campus Monterrey, 2) Tecnológico de Monterrey Campus Querétaro, 3) University of Nebraska-Lincoln (initially), and 4) University of Texas Arlington. Establishing these institutions as IRES sites that allowed this program to foster multiple exposures to a different, emerging culture of the American continent. 15 students in the sciences (14 engineering students and 1 nursing student) over the course of 3 years, worked with 6 international companies. 5 female engineering students participated, and 7 people from underepresennted groups were involved. The specific outcomes of this IRES Program were: 1. Enhance students’ research skills and facilitate cross-cultural research opportunities in internationally emerging engineering fields of study under the mentorship of a faculty researcher. The results included 6 research reports presented in English and Spanish to the 6 international companies and international faculty. 2. Increase students’ comfort level when working with people from different cultures by exposing them to the technological, economic, and socio-political aspects of Mexican society. 3. Increase students’ awareness of cultural differences by fostering their interest in and knowledge of a variety of cultural perspectives. We seek to provide an environment in which students actively learn how to collaborate in global, cross-cultural settings. The results included students completing a Spanish course in Mexico and received certification from a recognized University in Mexico. These students went on trips and participated in programs with the study abroad groups in Mexico. 4. Become familiar with the Spanish language to increase effectiveness when working with others from Spanish-speaking cultures. 5. Increase student abilities in research methods and problem-solving skills that will make them competitive in an international research environment. The activity is expected to have the additional benefit of increasing the student’s interest in graduate school. The results included student presenting their research projects in the Spanish the native language of the companies employees. This spanish was learned over the 6 week period as the students took Spanish classes at the hosted Mexico University. Intellectual Merit The intellectual focus of this project is to provide an opportunity for future engineers to conduct international research in relevant fields of study under the direction of a faculty mentor. Exposing students to research discovery in the increasingly important research areas of logistics, transportation, and RFID automatic data capture, which by their definition have vital international components. The natural integration of an international experience will allow students to gain cultural exposure, language training, and global research perspectives of different and diverse people, ultimately broadening their worldview. This project allows educators to prepare the next generation of engineers by exposing students to different cultures prior to entering the workforce – an activity that aligns with the NSF mandate to better prepare "future generations of U.S. scientists and engineers to gain professional experience beyond the United States' borders early in their careers." As mentioned in Thomas Friedman’s The World is Flat, international understanding is pivotal to the nation’s development and future expansion of the U.S. economy (2005). The global economy demands that engineers be able to successfully negotiate and understand different cultures. The culture we propose to expose students to is expected to maintain their importance with regard to U.S. interests throughout the 21st century. Sixty-three percent of the 150 executives polled chose Spanish as the most valuable second language (Frazee, 1997). According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, Hispanics currently comprise 13.7 percent of the nation’s total population, and this segment of the population is growing at unprecedented rates. If current trends continue, by 2020 Hispanics will account for 17 percent of the U.S. population (NAE, 2005). Consequently, a significant segment of the American workforce either speaks Spanish as a first language or will speak Spanish as a first language. Management practices suitable for the current American workforce are not necessarily suitable for a Hispanic workforce – not only because of the language barrier, but also because of cultural differences in environments where managers have been slow to update their management styles (Ratcliff, 2003). Unfortunately, the problem is exacerbated by the claim that the federal government is not doing enough to address the nation’s "globalization Achilles’ heel" that is Americans’ lack of foreign language skills and global awareness (Lynch, 2006). This application is designed to counter that claim. More specifically, this proposed IRES program seeks to prepare future engineers for the dynamic 21st century workforce by exposing undergraduates to the Spanish language and Mexican culture. Further, the students will be immersed in cutting-edge research environments that will position prepare them to positively impact long-term engineering innovation and change.

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University of Texas at Arlington
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