Studying Abroad from the Perspectives of Ritchie School Alumni
Studying abroad in a foreign country is an amazing and unique opportunity for many students during their time at the University of Denver. Through the Office of International Education, DU offers a broad passport of potential study abroad programs, ranging from Europe to Asia to South America to Africa. With such variety, there is undoubtedly a program to pique the interest of every student. However, students at the Ritchie School of Engineering and Computer Sciences often don’t consider studying abroad because of concerns about meeting degree requirements, or because they do not see study abroad as relevant to their degree.
For students on the fence about studying abroad or who haven’t considered it at all, here are stories and experiences of Ritchie School alumni who studied abroad during their degrees and were eager to share the advice and lessons they learned from their time abroad.
Dominic Biggs received his Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering from DU in 2020 and is currently working for Lockheed Martin in New York as a Systems Engineer. During his time at DU, he studied abroad at the James Watt School of Engineering at the University of Glasgow in Scotland. Biggs said he decided to study abroad with DU differently than most students. DU and the James Watt School of Engineering were offering a unique opportunity to study abroad for a whole year and combine the first year of a Master’s degree into the senior year of his undergraduate degree. Since this program was new, the Chair for Mechanical and Materials Engineering, Dr. Peter Laz, came down to introduce the program and ask for volunteers. Biggs was one of the few who raised his hand.
Biggs explained that he didn’t know much about Scotland before going, but he was motivated because he “wanted to get a master’s at the time and it was one of the program’s where you could do a [4+1 degree].” Even though his initial decision was based around his degree, Biggs said there were lessons he learned while studying abroad that he wouldn’t have if he had stayed at DU for all four years of his bachelors.
At DU, Biggs said, “It [the Ritchie School] was pretty personal, pretty fun… which I enjoyed.” The program at the University of Glasgow had much larger class sizes and it was Biggs’ first time being in that kind of setting. He said that experience gave him “a healthy perspective on working for a larger company” and how that would be different from his time at DU where the student to teacher ratio was 15:1.
In addition, Biggs highlighted how the education system was different. “I think it’s a 90% self study… I did not have homework. I was given lectures, and then there was an exam at the end of the year.” Biggs said having to keep track of his own comprehension of the material throughout the semester was more reflective of professional work because “at work, nobody has a score above my head at any given moment. It’s nice to be trained to keep track of that yourself without relying on any sort of outside stimulus.”
Another Ritchie School alumnus who studied abroad during his time at DU was Ben Muratov. Muratov completed a dual-degree in Mechanical Engineering and Spanish, and now works in construction doing Computer-Aided Design (CAD) work and materials testing. He had the opportunity to study abroad twice while at DU. He went to Costa Rica for a semester, and spent 10 days in Europe for a sustainability trip that took him to Berlin, Munich, and France.
Regarding his trip to Costa Rica, Muratov said, “I was really excited to go. A lot of engineers (I knew) didn’t go abroad. So I felt very fortunate to have gone, especially because it’s the same price as tuition.” Muratov mentioned that he did have to be proactive with his schedule to make space for study abroad, ensuring that he had taken all the classes he needed before or after his semester abroad.
“It was definitely worth it because you just meet a brand new set of people from different backgrounds, different degrees, different journeys and schools. And the fact that we were able to connect and make very long lasting relationships and connections was pretty amazing,” Muratov said. During his time in Costa Rica, Muratov lived in a homestay and was able to utilize his Spanish with the family that hosted him.
While his time abroad was a big boon to his Spanish degree, Muratov explained that his time in Costa Rica enriched his engineering degree a lot, too. “It gave me an opportunity to explore the creative side of engineering. There was a makerspace there [in Costa Rica] and one of the people that I met was actually an architect. So I got to explore a lot of how they do CAD work, how they use Autodesk Inventor, and how they follow standards… It allowed me to do a lot more creative projects,” Muratov said.
After his own experience, Muratov said his biggest advice to current RSECS students is: “Stop thinking and just do it!”
Muratov and Biggs participated in engineering-based programs while abroad, but as Muratov added, “You don’t have to do an engineering-themed study abroad.” Muratov and Biggs both highlighted the lifelong friendships and connections they made while abroad and how positively that alone impacted their lives.
“What study abroad does teach you is life outside the norm and it gives you an experience that will trigger so much more in life.”
While juggling degree requirements can be an obstacle for some Ritchie School students, the opportunities, benefits, and fun moments that students experience abroad are all great reasons to seriously consider adding study abroad to your academic career at DU. As Muratov put it, “There’s always a million excuses to not go and there’s one amazing reason to go. So you find a reason and you find your way to a country.”