Since March 2020 the COVID-19 pandemic has diminished all travel-abroad educational opportunities that universities can offer their students. This presentation discusses the development and execution of a virtual, six week intensive, faculty-led, international program with Brazilian partners focused in sustainable energy during the months of May and June 2020. The program introduced chemical engineering students to global sustainability issues and how to produce innovate solutions to these problems using chemical engineering concepts. During this six-week virtual program, the students took two courses, Conservation Principles and Sustainable Energy Systems. In addition to the courses, they participated in discussions, activities and a project that deepened their understanding of cultural and societal differences in the way Brazil approaches sustainable development. Three main program strategies were developed. First, there were virtual lectures from representatives working in Brazilian companies. The representatives discussed their sustainable energy technologies and how the companies make an impact on the environment, society, and economy both before and during the pandemic. Secondly, the students took part in weekly culture workshops and discussions to highlight Brazilian culture. The topics included history, music, cuisine, and language. The students performed research and discussed these aspects of Brazilian culture and how they influence sustainable practices and policies. Lastly and most importantly, students worked with Brazilian engineering students from Maua University to perform a project in collaboration with Suzano S.A., a sustainable pulp and paper company located in Brazil. Students were divided into 5 teams consisting of a mixture of Northeastern and Maua students. They performed research, developed, and designed a plan in which Suzano can become more sustainable in a designated sector of business of interest to Suzano. Each team work together to gain and apply technical engineering knowledge to their sectorâs assignment. The team also accessed the impact that their solution had on the sustainability of the company. The Northeastern students gained valuable global knowledge and skills via virtual means working with the Maua students and company leaders.
A student close out survey found that 50% of the students (N=10) said program exceeded their expectations and the other 50% said that it met their expectations. This paper discusses strategies on how to successfully perform an international learning experience virtually. It will also discuss the types of assignments and interactions that ensure students engage in cross cultural learning while applying engineering and sustainability topics in a virtual environment.