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Italian Program Achieves 10-Year Mark

Italian Program Achieves 10-Year Mark

12/14/2012 12:01:00 PM Susan Mumm

NPRE and the University of Pisa (UNIPI) are celebrating 10 years of cooperation in hosting and exchanging engineering students.

Every spring since 2003, about 15 students from Illinois travel to Pisa, then, in the fall, a similar number of UNIPI students travel to Urbana. Through this “Summer Course Exchange Program,” the groups attend a class on energy systems as well as a language class of the hosting country. The students and their hosts visit industries, power plants and research laboratories as well as cities and cultural attractions. As the program has continued, the exchange has grown to include professors and researchers.


A group of Italian students visiting the Clinton, Illinois, nuclear power station in 2009.
A group of Italian students visiting the Clinton, Illinois, nuclear power station in 2009.


For NPRE, the seeds for the program were planted with a trip Prof. Rizwan Uddin made in February 2002 to attend a meeting of the European Commission 5th Euratom Framework Programme. At that time Uddin was aware that the Engineering at Illinois’ International Programs in Engineering (IPENG) was encouraging development of cultural and scientific exchange experiences for students. When Udidn returned to Pisa in November 2002 for a technical meeting, plans for the exchange were solidified.
“Though the discussion of taking the students to Pisa had already started, many of the details were initiated and some finalized during and soon after this meeting,” Uddin said. “Calogero Sollima (faculty member and exchange organizer for UNIPI) was central to all the initial arrangements. There were numerous emails back and forth to sort out the details regarding credits, classrooms and housing arrangements.”
In the first year, Illinois students shared housing with Italian students and, in some cases, their families. “One or two students from the University of Illinois were placed per apartment, dispersed throughout (Pisa). It was a difficult arrangement in many ways, but it had some obvious advantages,” Uddin said.
Students enrolled in the program stay in the host country for five weeks. Each class attended is part of the host department’s semester program. Monday through Thursday, participants take two hours of language and two hours of technical courses. At Illinois this fall, in addition to the core exchange course, NPRE 201, Sollima and NPRE Department Head Jim Stubbins joined with University of Pisa Prof. Marco Beghini to teach the additional course, “Design Analysis for Nuclear Systems: Fundamentals of PTS Analysis.”
Fridays are reserved for technical visits to factories and national research laboratories:  in Italy, General Electric’s Nuovo Pignone, ENEL, SOGIN and Belvedere (a biomass plant using gases from garbage to produce electricity), and, in Illinois, Exelon and Argonne National Laboratory. The weekends are devoted to cultural trips to museums and cities such as New York, Chicago, Las Vegas, San Francisco, Los Angeles and the Grand Canyon in the United States, and Rome, Florence, Naples, Capri, Pompeii, Venice and the Vatican in Italy.
Since the beginning about 160 students from Illinois and 100 from Pisa have participated. The exchange program has been beneficial for all parties, Sollima believes.
“This program gives (universities) the possibility to increase the exchange of professors, researchers and students and also provides a basis to develop common teaching and research programs,” Sollima said. “For industries, the program helps to improve the professional skills of the students by increasing their ability to cooperate in a team, as well as to interact and to adjust to the different culture. SCEP allows (faculty members) to teach students with different backgrounds both technically and culturally, and to compare different methodologies of teaching and learning. For the students, SCEP opens the possibility to spend either one semester or one year or to prepare their master thesis” in one of the locations.