I imagine if I got the brochure to my current study abroad trip without further description, I would have certainly tossed it away.
“Lima, Peru: Cross-cultural Engagement and STEM,” — emphasis on STEM — is the name of the trip endorsed through the Penn State College of Engineering.
As a journalism major and humanities enthusiast, I have always had some animosity mixed with admiration toward STEM majors and the ability to work with math and science. Now, I know my thoughts were simply caught up in the STEM-versus-humanities battle that wins no war.
But as I described my hesitance with an engineering-based trip to the student presenting the brochure, she said the trip is open to all majors, though there would be one engineering course to take. Combined, her assurance and my desire to travel to Peru pushed me to take the chance.
My trip consists of 16 students — 12 engineering majors. We are paired with the Universidad Nacional de Ingeniería, a highly competitive engineering university in Peru with a maximum acceptance rate of 10 percent. The engineering students from the Peruvian university join our classes to help us with engineering as we help them improve upon their English skills.
As a class, we’re focused on the United Nation’s Sustainable Goals for Development — “the blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all,” as the U.N. website describes.
Specific to Peru, my teammates and I have been working on a project to improve water quality. The water quality in Peru is poor, and locals are faced with needing to boil tap water before drinking it because of contamination.
Before starting this project, Penn State professor Julio Urbina emphasized the importance of collaboration between STEM and non-STEM professions. He said each needs the other to help their work in some way, which is a concept I’m glad he introduced early in our education here.
He also mentioned the book “The Two Cultures” by C.P. Snow, which tackles this issue of Western societies splitting the sciences and humanities. According to the book, this separation prevents the solving of world problems.
This divide is especially seen here as most of the universities and colleges are divided by majors — many schools are specific to medical and engineering fields, yet there are just general schools for all the humanities.
When describing my journalism education to my Peruvian counterparts, some were surprised to learn it can be a major. Understandably, the closest thing to a journalism degree I have found here is getting a general “communications” degree, which covers an overview of the majors offered in the Bellisario College of Communications.
On top of a humanities divide, there also seems to be a similar STEM gender divide in Peru that the United States has been recently tackling. The roughly 30 engineering students we are partnered with are all male and say only one in 17 students at their college are women.
In contrast, eight of the 12 Penn State engineering students are women. Numbers like this makes me wish I could see more representation for women in majors like engineering in Peru. I would love to see more universities with humanities specializations because it would open so many doors for people like me who are hesitant to take STEM classes.
On this trip, I have learned to appreciate the engineering field so much more, seeing the brilliancy and brains of the UNI students, the passions of my professors, and the abilities of my fellow engineering students from Penn State. Though I study journalism, I'm now honored to carry the nickname "honorary engineer" from my classmates.