Students Mesh Humanities with Engineering During Eye-opening Trip to Turkey

Friday, September 25, 2015
Humanities Turkey Trip Gropu

Professor Andrew Findley (far left) took students to Istanbul as part of his course, To the City: The Urban Topography of Istanbul. Senior mechanical engineering student Nick Tully (far right) called the trip an "eye-opening experience."

On a chain around Nick Tully's neck hangs a memento. He pulls it from the neck of his t-shirt and shows off the round pendant, a Turkish amulet believed to ward off the "evil eye." The senior mechanical engineering major picked it up on his recent trip to Istanbul, the culmination of the Humanities course, To the City: The Urban Topography of Istanbul, taught by Assistant Professor of Art History and Archeology Andrew Findley.

The travel opportunity, facilitated through the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences and the Office of Global Programs, was open to a limited number of the students who had successfully completed the course during the spring quarter. Findley says the goal was to combine the studies of historical culture, topography, and art history in a way that would connect engineering students to the humanities. Findley and Associate Professor of Geography Mike Kukral accompanied the group.

"Actually being in the presence of things that they studied helped them to more easily comprehend the built environment. They saw firsthand how archeology works and how topography is studied," Findley says. He was especially pleased, he adds, by how adept the students were at connecting their own studies in engineering to the subjects.

Tully says that he brought home far more than simple trinkets from the international experience.

A native of East Patchogue, New York, Tully had never traveled internationally when he signed up for Findley's class. Although he admits that he was a little apprehensive about the prospect of a two-week trip with a group of students he didn't really know, he knew the experience would be "something I could take with me and make my own" as he prepared to enter his senior year and began to make decisions for his future. But Tully says he didn't anticipate the effect the experience would have on him, as he recalls one particularly striking instance during his time in the city.

"We were walking through a street of downtown Istanbul-an area with a lot of Syrian refugees. Ten to 15 kids came up to us, and they were smiling and hugging us. All I could think was these kids aren't in school. They don't have the opportunity to better themselves-I wish I could do more to help," he adds.

Interim Vice President for Academic Affairs Rick Stamper says that opportunities for international experience are becoming increasingly important for future engineers and scientists-those who will be in a position to drive change and solve problems in an increasingly connected world.

"Engineering is a global business now. Any engineer in the future is going to have to work comfortably in an international setting. Equally or more important is the broad educational experience. The international experience helps students develop their sense of empathy and gives them a fresh perspective from which to view their own culture," Stamper says. "It's a fabulous educational experience--both a practical educational experience and personal development, and that's what we're trying to do."

For Tully, the trip was an eye-opener; one he says he wishes he'd had sooner. As a result of his experience, he's now considering service in the Peace Corps after graduation. And he offers this piece of advice for students considering an international experience: "Don't be afraid to get outside your comfort zone because that's where you actually learn the most about yourself."