Logo: University of Southern California

Education Without Borders

To compete for top engineering students, Globalization Program emphasizes global education and research opportunities abroad.
Claudia Melendez
November 26, 2008 —

Globalization drives the agenda of modern research universities.  A number of goals are typically pursued, from enhancing prestige to maintaining a quality student pipeline to advancing a service mission and to connecting with overseas alumni and other constituencies.  In parallel, there are a number of emerging opportunities, from increased global demand for higher education to increased global research and development to the desire for acquiring a foreign education, at home or abroad.

Cauligi Raghavendra, senior associate dean for strategic initiatives, oversees the Globalization Program.   Photo by Claudia Melendez.

At the Viterbi School of Engineering, globalization is a strategic initiative, directed by Senior Associate Dean Cauligi Raghavendra.  Of course, the Viterbi School has always been a pioneer in globalization, particularly at the graduate student level, where 55 percent of the students are international. To further pursue the school's globalization strategy, Raghavendra has adopted a multi-pronged approach by encouraging transnational research, student exchange, helping in the recruitment of high-quality graduate international students, providing Viterbi students with a global experience and creating unique international programs. 

“Our aim is to be a truly global engineering school,” Raghavendra said. “It’s really critical for the profession because these days many companies are global. Innovation occurs more and more often overseas, so we want to be closely connected with top institutions around the world, where this happens."

The last decade of the 20th century witnessed the dramatic emergence of Asian economies other than Japan.  China and India are growing at a torrid pace, while positioning science and technology as the key to economic development.

It is precisely in Asia where Raghavendra is focusing his efforts and strengthening links: Viterbi now has active research partnerships with 13 top universities in seven countries, including China, Korea and India. Summer internships offer the opportunity for outstanding students from the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) in Kharagpur, India, and from Tsinghua University in Beijing, to spend eight-week research summer internships at USC.

Undergraduate exchange programs with the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, Nanyang Technological University and National University in Singapore, and Tsinghua University's School of Information Science and Technology give students the opportunity to work side-by-side with future colleagues from different parts of the globe.

“The initiative has been very successful,” Raghavendra said. “But we want to make it even more so, with a stronger presence and more joint research centers.  In addition, we want more places where our students can visit, study and learn."

This past summer, four Viterbi students had the opportunity to participate in a reciprocal summer internship program at Tsinghua University.  Neilsen Bernardo, a junior in electrical engineering who attended the six-week program and joined a research team on wireless communication, was very impressed.

“It was very hands-on,” Bernardo said. “It was a good opportunity to see how other countries do research.”

Arthur Alaniz, a senior in electrical engineering, came back from Beijing wanting more.

“This definitely turned me on to research abroad,” Alaniz said, adding that he’s looking into applying for a program in Japan.

Faculty members who have had summer research exchange students have also felt the benefits from incorporating undergraduates in their research teams. 

Neilsen Bernardo, left, and Arthur Alaniz, right, reported very rewarding experiences studying abroad.  Photo by Claudia Melendez.

“The IIT students we have had with us were very good," James Moore, chair of the Daniel J. Epstein Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering, wrote in an e-mail.  "They are well- trained, highly motivated and conscientious, and have been able to join working teams of graduate students with little in the way of  supervision....They acquired skills that they can take back to IIT and feel more confident about what they can offer our research efforts while they are here.”

Faculty have benefitted in other ways as well.  The school's growing ties with Tsinghua University, for instance, have produced an annually held Viterbi-Tsinghua faculty workshop with Tsinghua's School of Information Science and Technology. Designed to foster collaborative research and educational opportunities in emerging  information technology areas, the workshop will be held for a third consecutive year next Spring, this time in Beijing.

Another recent development that will beneft faculty and students is the establishment of a new Infosys-funded Center for Research and Education in Advanced Software Technologies (CAST), which was announced in September 2008.  CAST is the first-ever research center supported outside of India by the Bangalore-based company.  Infosys conducts work in broad IT application areas, which are of interest to USC engineers; conversely, Infosys engineers will be able to consult with USC engineers when they encounter new IT problems and challenges.  Similar international partnerships have been in place with Korean Airlines, Airbus, Pratt and Whitney, and General Electric.

While Raghavendra seems pleased overall with the efforts to date, he also knows he has a long way to go. For starters, he would like more undergraduate students to have research opportunities abroad, which means he needs to establish more partnerships with more international universities.

“We want every undergraduate student to have a global experience, e.g. by spending a semester of study (abroad)," he said. “And we are working towards making this happen."