Students examine five centuries of history during education abroad experience in Europe

September 6, 2013

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Students in front of a fountain in Bruges, Belgium

PLATTEVILLE, Wis.­­­ – Fifteen University of Wisconsin-Platteville students examined five centuries of history during a short-term education abroad experience in Europe this summer entitled “The History of Science and Technology in Europe, 1500 to the Present.”

The course, whose destinations included Amsterdam, Brussels and Paris, focused on the ways that scientific developments have been intertwined with Europe’s wider political, economic, social and cultural history. Students were from a variety of disciplines including engineering, chemistry, biology, history and international studies.

Faculty leaders of the course were Dr. Adam Stanley, associate professor of history in the UW-Platteville Department of Social Sciences, and Elizabeth Holden, lecturer in the UW-Platteville Department of Engineering Physics. They led the students on tours of museums, libraries, observatories, a botanical garden and a number of planetariums.

“Sites were chosen based on their connection to the course’s main themes, in particular the Scientific Revolution, astronomical discoveries, medical science, the history of manufacturing and commerce and the impact of scientific and technological developments on race, class and gender in Europe,” said Stanley. “These themes were designed to ensure broad coverage of scientific and technological history over the past five centuries.”

“This type of international experience benefits students in many ways,” said Stanley. “It’s not only learning about the history of science. Students get a chance to see how the ideas and lifestyles of people in other societies are different from those in the United States. Given that employers often find such international experience a valuable asset in their employees, the course can also give students an advantage in the job market.”

“Giving the students a chance to perform hands-on activities was an important part of the trip,” Holden said. “They were granted access to the roof of one of the observatories in order to look at the moon using exact replicas of Galileo’s telescopes. They also had a chance to witness the re-creation of the famous 18th century Vis Viva experiment, which was important in determining how an object’s energy is dependent on its speed.”

Trent Cybela, a senior mechanical engineering major from Brown Deer, Wis. and president of Pioneer Rocketry, UW-Platteville’s high-powered rocketry team, enjoyed the freedom he and the others had to explore. “You can’t get the full experience of travel from behind a tour bus window,” Cybela said. “For that reason, Liz and Adam made sure that alongside our studies, we had plenty of free time to meet new people and connect with our surroundings.”

“For me – and I’m sure other people as well – it’s very difficult to think about places on the other side of the world as being real,” Cybela noted. “Traveling abroad and making new friends allowed me to connect the dots in a way I didn’t think was possible before. I learned that there isn’t one right way to live your life. The cultural norms that we’ve grown up with here don’t constitute an absolute truth about the best way to walk, talk or do anything. Once I understood this, it became a lot easier to think about people not in terms of labels, but in terms of people.”

“The language was the most challenging part of the trip,” Cybela continued. “I felt very apprehensive about not speaking the local languages, which were mainly French and Dutch. However, I found that even if I could only manage the most basic phrases, such as ‘hello’ and ‘how are you,’ it really went a long way. A positive attitude translates well in all languages.”

“It was very interesting to visit the museums which displayed the emerging technologies of the scientific revolution,” Cybela noted. “I learned that many of the mechanisms and machines that we rely on today came as a result of clockmakers, because they had the expertise to design and fabricate the gears, springs and other components which make precision devices work properly. Astronomers, navigators, machinists and scientists have a lot to be thankful for from the pioneering work of clockmakers.”

“Traveling the Netherlands was awesome,” Cybela said. “Though I could name dozens of amazing places in just as many towns and cities, what I was really most excited about was riding the trains. Riding the rails in Europe was an exciting experience and a great way to meet new people.”

Marissa Wildeck, a senior civil engineering major with a structural and geotechnical emphasis and a 2011 STEM Scholar from Weston, Wis., said that she enjoyed the variety of academic backgrounds of the students who went on this trip. “Because our fields of study varied, we had some very interesting conversations and opinions during group discussions following our site visits, readings and lectures,” Wildeck said.

“This international experience changed my view on city infrastructure and public transportation,” Wildeck stated. “As a civil engineering major, it was very interesting to see the history as well as the many different designs that were used in Europe. This experience provided me with new ideas to help me think outside the box for future projects and helped me learn new skills that will enable me to work with a variety of people with different skill sets.”

“The most exciting part of the trip was climbing the 670 steps of the Eiffel Tower and then riding the elevator to the top,” Wildeck said. “The view was amazing. I gained a great respect for the engineering that went into its planning and construction after reading about it for one of our discussions. I also liked visiting the Netherlands, which has an amazing culture. The cities were larger than anything I had experienced in the United States, but still held a very homey feel that made them seem much smaller than they were. Everyone was very nice and the locations were gorgeous.”

The course will be offered again in the summer pre-session of 2014. From May 19-June 4, 2014, the instructors will lead students to sites in the Netherlands and Germany, as well as Prague in the Czech Republic. For students interested in participating in next year’s program, the priority application deadline is Dec. 11.

Contact: Adam Stanley, associate professor of history, department of social sciences, (608) 342-6012, stanleya@uwplatt.edu or Elizabeth Holden, lecturer, department of engineering physics, (608) 342-1397, holdene@uwplatt.edu

Written by: Laurie A. Hamer, communications specialist, College of Liberal Arts and Education, (608) 342-6191, hamerl@uwplatt.edu

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