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Germany Program To Start in Summer

By May K. Tse
Associate News Editor

The new MIT-Germany program, first proposed a year and a half ago, is now preparing for its first summer of operation and is in the process of accepting its final applications.

The program is modeled after the well-established MIT-Japan program, but its focus on Europe marks a new turn for MIT. "There's a lot of action in Asia and the Pacific Rim, but this is the first MIT program in Europe,"said Bernd Widdig, associate professor of German Studies and the director of the MIT-Germany program.

At the moment, the program's main focus is on introducing students to Germany. "One of our goals is to integrate the learning of German language and culture into the education and career goals of MIT students,"Widdig said. The focus on Germany may soon broaden, however, to encompass all of Europe. "In the future, once MIT-Germany is more established, we plan to expand it to an MIT-Europe program," he said.

Efforts to create an MIT program in Germany began about a year and a half ago through the efforts of Widdig and Sigrid Berka, now the coordinator of the MIT-Germany program. They worked to establish relations with German companies and the German government.

Widdig and Berka managed to secure funding from the German government for the next three years, as well as from the MITScience and Technology Initiative. "The companies pay for the flight and salary, the program provides work permits, health insurance, etc. Most companies help with housing as well,"Widdig said.

Student involvement growing

There are about 20 students in the program so far; roughly half are undergraduate students and half are graduate students. Students from almost every major are involved, but electrical engineering and computer science majors are especially well represented.

"This is a great start to my engineering career," said Chadwyck T. Musser '97, a mechanical engineering student participating in the program. It also offers "12 months in a cultural center of Europe."

"Most of the students are in German classes, and many have minors or concentrations in German. There is a rigid requirement of two years of college-level German and one higher level class, or the equivalent,"Berka said.

The students apply and then are matched with companies, which include BMW, Daimler-Benz, Citibank, and IBM. "These companies are interested in the students because they speak several languages, and in the end they might potentially be employees for their American or European subsidiaries,"Berka said.

As the MIT-Germany program grows, it could expand its role to establishing ties between German academics and faculty at MIT. There is also the possibility of bringing German students to American companies, Widdig said.

International programs see growth

The new German program joins a set of other international programs which provide students with exposure to other cultures and languages. Among the newest is the MISTI-China program, which was created three years ago by former Provost Mark S. Wrighton.

"Our purpose is two-fold: We provide small amounts of seed money to start collaborative lab research projects in China, plus we also have the student internship program," said Deborah A. Ullrich, administrative director of the MISTI-China program. The internships generally last from six months to a year and usually go to students with a degree who want additional experience.

"We picked China because it's one of the major players in the 21st century, and the feeling was that we at MIT didn't know enough about it and ought to learn," Ullrich said.

The oldest study abroad program, though, is the MIT-Japan program. Started in 1981 by Richard J. Samuels PhD '80, it has expanded from seven students to its current level of 40 to 50 students, said Patricia E. Gercik, director of the program.

"The MIT-Japan program was the first of its kind. It's been copied at other schools," Gercik said. "We also helped Canada, Switzerland, Sweden, and Britain get similar programs started, too."

Most interns enter the program as undergraduates, but most don't work in Japan until after they have graduated, Gercik said.

"MIT, as a leader in technology, should be a leader in this, too. I hope students will improve their language, culture, and business knowledge in a different environment, build networks, and make companies here more effective in dealing with Japan," Gercik said.