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MEMS Summer Education Program Brings American-Korean Worlds Together

August 8, 2011

Korean singing

 

Showcasing Talents: Taking a break from their studies, students from Korea's
Seoul National University of Science & Technology sang their rendition of "Let It
Be" during the "Rose-Hulman/Korea's Got Talent" show.

 

When Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology professor Michael McInerney taught Micro-Electro-Mechanical Systems (MEMS) courses in Korea, he noted that his international students suffered from a lack of opportunities for hands-on experiences in micromachines.

"I found it difficult to get access to a laboratory," the physics and optical engineering professor noted of sabbatical during a 2008-2009 academic year at the Northumbria University-Newcastle (UNN) program at Korea's Seoul National University of Technology (Seoul Tech).

The UNN program is an undergraduate engineering degree, jointly accredited by the United Kingdom's Northumbria University and Seoul Tech, in which all courses after the freshman year are taught in English.  McInerney thought his Korean students would benefit from a summer educational program in which they could gain some hands-on MEMS experience, while also improving their English language skills.

  Korean study
 

Exchanging Ideas: Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology student Heather Knapp,
an optical engineering major, helps two visiting Korean students solve a problem.
Knapp served as one of the mentors for this summer's group.

So, that's why Rose-Hulman's Department of Physics and Optical Engineering has provided a multi-faceted educational experience over a four-week period to a group of Korean students during the past two years.   This year's group was expanded to include 20 students.

An Introduction to MEMS course is similar to one taught to Rose-Hulman undergraduate students, with a strong laboratory component and an opportunity to work in a Clean Room laboratory environment.   The Korean students also received English language instruction through Indiana State University's Department of Languages, Literatures and Linguistics.

Out of the classroom, there were also extracurricular activities designed to give the visiting students a taste of American culture.

"This was a very structured visit.  The classes are Rose-Hulman courses for credit.  (The Korean students) are actually registered Rose-Hulman students.  That's what distinguishes this summer program from many of the others," McInerney says.  He was joined in teaching the MEMS course by colleague Azad Siahmakoun, director of Rose-Hulman's facilities for micro-nanoscale devices and systems.

But it was not all work for the Korean contingent.  There was also time for play.  After all, the visiting students sought a well-rounded educational and cultural experience.

"People don't come on their summer vacation to go to school," McInerney says.

Rose-Hulman students served as hosts, tour guides and directors for the Korean students' extracurricular activities.  These included trips to the Holiday World theme and water park, Warren Dunes State Park, Chicago and, even, excursions to Terre Haute's Walmart story.  There were also canoe trips, a shopping trip to an outlet mall, and visits to Rose-Hulman students' homes for family dinners.

Korean laughing  

That's Entertainment: Students from Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology and
Korea's Seoul National University of Science & Technology enjoyed singing, dancing,
art and Tae Kwon Do demonstrations during a recent talent show.

 

It was an experience mutually beneficial to students from both countries.  The Rose-Hulman students received a valuable taste of another culture.

"I like (the Korean students') perspective on things.  They see things differently than we do," commented Rose-Hulman student advisor Allison Tharp.

"They take their relationships a lot more seriously," observes advisor Sadie Geerligs.

English instructor Kate Zimmer devoted about 10 hours a week during the summer program to help the Koreans improve their language skills.  Rather than traditional classroom instruction, however, Zimmer used a variety of interactive exercises to engage the students and make lessons fun.

"The whole goal of the class was mainly to get them speaking, learning new vocabulary and idioms," Zimmer explains.  Students were required to speak English during class time.  "If they didn't speak English they had to sing a song," she said.

"My plan is to get a job in the car industry.  So, I need the MEMS process," Korean visitor Sak Lee explained.  While the laboratory experiences were good, he also enjoyed learning about American culture.  In Korea, Lee says, relationships between generations are more formal in nature.  Familiarity between older and younger people is rare.

"I was comfortable with Dr. McInerney and other professors," Lee said.  "I never make friendships with professors (in Korea)," he adds. "It is so good!"

Hyunduk Shin, another Korean student, agreed that the blending of academics and cultural immersion is what made Rose-Hulman's summer program an outstanding experience.

"The lab experiments were really great.  I enjoyed them!  I couldn't experience that in Korea," he said.  "In Korea, we intensively memorize and study.  Here, we do a lot of activities that are fun and help us to learn English.  Learning American culture was the best experience."