A trip to China for a group of students from the University of Kansas School of Engineering combines all the elements of a unique leadership program — and could provide others with a better understanding of what engineering has to offer and details on China’s booming economy.
Fourteen students in the Madison “Al” and Lila Self Engineering Leadership Fellows Program, all seniors, leave Aug. 8 for a 10-day trip to Beijing and Shanghai, China, for the World Expo.
Lucy McGilley, director of the SELF program, said the trip serves as a capstone experience for the first group of SELF students to reach senior status. The idea of a trip to China sprang from a challenge she posed to students during their junior year.
“I asked them to come up with an experience that combined all the pillars of the SELF Program — business, entrepreneurship, leadership, management and communication — as well as all engineering disciplines, and attending the World Expo in China was their idea,” McGilley said.
The SELF program is designed to develop engineering and computer science graduates who are goal-oriented and bring the entrepreneurship, business skills and vision needed to guide technology-based corporations. The program enables undergraduates to refine their skills through mentoring and academic and leadership opportunities.
Brian Larkin, a SELF fellow and senior in mechanical engineering, said the students selected a location and an event that meshed with the program’s goals.
“We decided to select China because not only is Shanghai hosting the 2010 World’s Fair, but China has the fastest growing economy and population in the world,” Larkin said. “This could present some great opportunities in engineering and business during our careers, so we are excited for the chance to experience their culture and business dynamic while we are still in school.”
SELF students will collect photos, videos and other materials during their trip. Throughout the academic year, they will present to K-12 students and others at KU an overview of their travels, details on China’s economy and a better understanding of engineering.
“We’ll have of outreach activities to younger students that will hopefully inspire them to get into engineering,” McGilley said. “We plan to give back to the School of Engineering, allowing all students here to learn from the SELF students’ experience. And we will to give back to our donors to show them what we’ve learned.”
The students had to find a way to cover the bulk price of the trip, McGilley said. They sought assistance from KU Endowment and School of Engineering alumni who had an interest in China. Their efforts raised $31,000 for the trip. Donors included Ion Geophysical Corp., Sabre and Travelocity, Simon McPherson, Allyn and Jill Risley, Stan and Joan Myers and Pat and Brenda Oenbring.
“We created a presentation to give to potential sponsors that information about what we would be learning in China, how it was important to us as future engineers and what we could bring back to the school to share,” said Markie McConkey, a senior in mechanical engineering. “This presentation, as well as our presentation team, were vital in raising sufficient funds, and this trip would not be a reality without them both.”
The students will spend the first four days of the trip in the Chinese capital of Beijing, where sightseeing — including stops at Tiananmen Square and one of the more picturesque views of the Great Wall of China — will be mixed with tours of several Chinese businesses, including the Beijing offices of Black & Veatch, an engineering firm headquartered in Overland Park.
The group then will travel 800 miles on a nonstop, overnight train to Shanghai. Three days at World Expo 2010 (also known as the World’s Fair) will highlight the second leg of the trip.
The World Expo in Shanghai, themed “Better City, Better Life,” is an engineering extravaganza, with urban development as its focus. More than 190 countries are showcased with elaborate, futuristic pavilions. More than 70 million people are expected to visit the World Expo during its six-month run.
“I expect there to be opportunities to expand the fellows’ engineering knowledge on a worldwide level,” said Drew Robinson, a senior in mechanical engineering. “Being able to see what other countries are doing to solve society’s problems will have numerous effects on the way we, as new engineers, approach problems and finding their solutions. It will also allow for vast networking opportunities and a chance to experience a new culture.”
McGilley and School of Engineering Recruitment Director Alexis McKinley Jones will accompany the students to China. Jones also promotes study abroad experiences for students in the School of Engineering.
Madison “Al” and Lila Self, of Hinsdale, Ill., established the SELF program in 2007 with a gift of $10 million to KU Endowment for the School of Engineering. Earlier this year, the Selfs provided an additional $10 million for the program. Currently, 58 KU students participate in the SELF program. In total, the Selfs have donated $44 million to KU, which includes giving to other areas of the university.
The funds are managed by KU Endowment, the official fundraising and fund-management foundation for KU. Founded in 1891, KU Endowment was the first foundation of its kind at a U.S. public university.
or the School of Engineering’s website to share in the students’ experiences as they see some of the world’s newest engineering marvels.