For the second consecutive year, Professor Niko Tracksdorf and his students from the University of Rhode Island’s five-year, dual degree International Engineering Program recently paid a visit to Cranston High School East.
The program includes a degree in German, a degree in engineering and a one-year paid internship opportunity in Germany during the students’ fourth year with a wide variety of German companies. This year, however, Tracksdorf and his colleagues were at Cranston East to help celebrate good news.
Beginning next fall, students will have the opportunity to take two URI Concurrent Enrollment courses in German – German 101 and 102 – which when combined with a Pre-Calculus URI Concurrent Enrollment class will grant them URI credits and a diploma endorsement and put them on the pathway to the URI IEP program.
Previously, the students could participate in a German language club hosted at Cranston East, but as the demand for German language classes grew, a partnership was established and Baerbel Tully, advisor for the club, was chosen to teach the German language classes for next year. Cranston East is the only school in Cranston to teach German language classes, and according to Tracksdorf, the city is ahead of the trend in opening a new language program, while in other cities’ foreign language programs are being cut despite the need for an emphasis on global education.
“I think it speaks highly of the school, and the value it puts on intercultural learning and the education of global citizens,” Tracksdorf said.
He cited a recent New York Times opinion piece from March 26, 2019, which spoke of colleges across the United States cutting 651 foreign language programs. The same piece cited a Pew study from last year showing that only 20 percent of K-12 students in America study a foreign language – compared with an average of 92 percent in Europe – and only 10 states and the District of Columbia make foreign-language learning a high school graduation requirement.
Not only will the students at East be ahead of the trend in learning a new language, but they will also be using a new, interactive, diverse, inclusive, interdisciplinary textbook, “Impuls Deutsch,” for which Tracksdorf is the editor and has had the opportunity to be on the authoring team. The East students will be the first high school students to ever use the book, and one of the first groups of students overall.
According to Tracksdorf, the new textbook is not just about learning a language. It seeks to help students connect what they are learning and experiencing in other disciplines and also to connect with the characters in the textbook.
“You can find a character in the book who is like you,” he told the approximately 50 students who attended the presentation. “It is very diverse. It includes multiple ethnicities, religions, different types of families and identities. It is different from the old white, Christian male characters. There are refugees featured in the textbook, sharing their experiences and you will learn from their stories. You will learn about the culture from the perspective of people who weren’t there before, not from a text box in the textbook.”
Tracksdorf introduced the students to a typical URI German 101 class by running his presentation as if it were a typical day in his class, speaking to the students in German for about 30 minutes to learn their names and tossing a ball back and forth in groups to practice the language.
“Only about 6 percent of students come into my classes knowing German,” he said. “You would be ahead of the game by taking German here.”
Visiting East along with Tracksdorf were URI IEP graduates Montara Erickson, Michael Eggleston and Joseph Jacobs. Additionally, IEP coordinator Melissa Schenck and engineering professor Christopher Baxter were on hand to speak to the students. They helped to run the group portion of the introductory event, circulating through the room, and then the graduates shared slideshows with the East students detailing their experiences in the IEP program’s yearlong internship program in Germany.
They talked about their travel experiences not only within Germany but also to neighboring countries, and they spoke about the job experiences that they had while working their internships as well as what it was like to put their German language learning to work while living, working and learning in Germany. The students described their experiences as “life-changing” and each said they’d do it all over again and hoped to return to Germany in the future.
Baxter spoke to the students about engineering, helping students to see that the field is expansive with many choices for students. Schenck gave the students an overview of how the URI IEP can benefit them in the future.
“Engineers are problem-solvers and they are needed all over the world,” she said. “Can you imagine living abroad? The IEP can help get you there. It gives you flexibility in your work life and personal life and allows you to travel and meet people.”
The students were given encouragement to think globally and were reassured that they are supported in their endeavors by the professors and staff at URI.
“This could all be you. You could go abroad to another city, and live in Europe,” Tracksdorf said. “You get a lot of guidance, we are on your side, working with you through the entire process so that you’re learning more and more … You really can do this.”
The professors also noted that there are several other similar dual degree programs at URI that the students may be interested in, as well as other language opportunities in addition to German that coordinate with the programs.
In addition to the German offerings at East, Cranston Public Schools offers a diploma endorsement to those taking AP Italian Language and Culture and Italian V Honors EE along with the Pre-Calculus URI Concurrent Enrollment class as well as those who chose two courses from AP Spanish Language and Culture, HL Spanish IV AP and HL Spanish V AP along with the Pre-Calculus URI Concurrent Enrollment class.
Dual degree programs are offered in other disciplines in addition to engineering – such as business, computer science, pharmacy and international studies – and can be paired with other languages besides German.
For more information about the URI IEP program, visit uri.edu/iep or facebook.com/uriiep.