The Wire @ WPI Online
VOLUME 11, NO. 3     FEBRUARY 1998

Global Perspectives

Students say Ja! to Denmark

Six students aced E Term in Denmark, not just in the grades they received but in gains that can't be measured.

For their Interactive Qualifying Project, Rory Kelleher '99, James Parente '97 and Katie Taylor '99 designed a sophisticated Web site for Mellemfolkeligt Samvirke (MS). A respected organization involved in outreach to developing countries, relief work and political activism, the name translates to the Danish Association for International Cooperation.

A marketing plan to attract American students to the Engineering College of Copenhagen was the subject of the second project, completed by Kimberly Wood '98, Laurie Alice Vinagro '99 and Mert Cagatay Anil '98.

Advisors for both IQPs were Professor Peder Pedersen of the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department, and Tom Thomsen, director of International Students and Scholars, who also serve as co-directors of the Denmark Project Program.

Hospitality, civic-mindedness, a thoughtful approach to technology, and a devotion to recreation and personal enrichment were some of the pleasing cultural features the students encountered. But the group working at MS also discovered that, at least in summertime, Denmark can be a tough place to bring in a deadline. July is enjoyed as slow-down time in Danish society, with many people taking time off.

³Though our co-workers were always a delight to be around, we found some days at MS to be extremely frustrating,'' say Kelleher, Parente and Taylor. ³In order for us to complete any work on the Web pages, we had to be given the information to put on the site. Without this information, in either English or Danish, our work was at a standstill. Getting this information was the biggest challenge we had to face while at MS.²

Still, the work got done; the students set up Web site frameworks for both English and Danish text. And, summing up the experience as ³overwhelmingly positive,² they returned with warm memories and unforgettable impressions.

³I know that I made the right decision,² wrote Kelleher from Copenhagen, ³because I already miss Denmark and I haven't even left yet.² Parente says that the casual, friendly office environment the students found at MS is ³certainly more sane and healthy. I just wasn't used to it. On one Friday, for instance, the entire afternoon was a going-away party‹wine and all‹for a colleague just going on vacation. I felt guilty, and kept taking breaks to do some work.²

Parente also provides an amusing glimpse into the hazards of trying to navigate foreign territory‹learning Web site design‹in a foreign country. ³Having Windows 95 in Danish was quite a hindrance, to say the least. I hate playing Russian roulette with computers; answering ja or nej (yes or no) to requests or messages in Danish did not suit me.²

Having to use laptop monitors to look at the developing Web site didn't help matters, Parente says. He admitted he'd gotten spoiled working in the computer lab at WPI, where after hours he had access to five computers.

But, he says, ³I have never before experienced such friendly and hospitable people as I encountered at MS. From dinner invitations to nightly outings, I cannot begin to express my amazement at the congeniality of the MS members we were in contact with. Without doubt, this was the most significant and meaningful element of my IQP experience in Denmark.²

According to Taylor, ³Everyone was anxious to meet us and show us as much of Danish culture as they could.² She says she was a little apprehensive about the trip, her first one to Europe, during D Term preparations. ³I wanted to know exactly what I would face, from the people I would meet to the place I would live to the work I would do. Now I've learned that the process of discovering these answers is what an experience like this is all about.²

The IQP experience in Copenhagen taught her more than she expected. ³There's a whole world out there filled with people waiting to be met, encounters ready to be experienced, and life ready to be lived,'' she says. ³I know now that I will never be content with a life full of easy answers; there are too many questions out there that only more experiences could begin to explain.²

The other IQP team worked at the Ingeniorhojskolen Kobenhavens Teknikum (IKT), or Engineering College of Copenhagen, which has a project emphasis similar to WPI's. A unique feature is that IKT has an electrical engineering track taught entirely in English. The students examined the feasibility of recruiting American students to that program.

Differences in secondary education (Danish students are generally better prepared than Americans for the rigors of IKT), competition from U.S. colleges and other factors led the WPI students to conclude that attracting Americans would not be easy. They suggested ways to overcome the obstacles, and also helped obtain an Educational Testing Service code number for IKT so that it can receive college board scores.

³The students have demonstrated excellent skills in dealing with a rather complex problem,'' wrote Prof. Flemming Krogh, head of IKT's electrical engineering department. ³They have shown a high degree of motivation, self-discipline and ability to cooperateŠand have reached some very useful conclusions and recommendations.²

³Overall, this project established a cultural bridge between American and Danish cultures. Everyone involved benefited,² say Wood, Vinagro and Anil. The six students lived in single-occupancy dorm rooms at the International College in Albertslund, a suburb of Copenhagen, the capital. They explored Copenhagen and other parts of the beautiful country, composed of hundreds of islands.

The Danish people are known for their well-organized system of social services, and the country plays an important role in science and international trade. It is a highly technological society where electronics, pharmaceuticals, shipbuilding, manufacturing (Legos come from there), modern windmill technology and comprehensive recycling are major endeavors. Danish citizens place a premium on the quality of life, often questioning and debating the impact of technology on themselves and the environment.

Future projects in Denmark will be held in D Term '98. Four have been set up involving developing an audio-based Web site for the blind, studying the applicability in Denmark of parts of the Americans with Disabilities Act, and projects with the Danish Bicycle Coalition and the National Museum's archeology department.

Carol McDonald


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