SOUTH KINGSTOWN – After 23 years at the helm, John Grandin officially retired this month as executive director of the International Engineering Program at the University of Rhode Island.
Grandin co-founded the program that trains engineers in both the technical facets of their jobs as well as a foreign language. Students in the five-year undergraduate program also participate in an internship and study abroad.
“There were some real doubters in the language and engineering programs when we proposed the idea,” Grandin said. “The language program has a firm tradition in the humanities and some colleagues feared an association with anything as pragmatic as engineering, whereas the engineers tended to think that any additional coursework should be strictly in technology. But we knew it would be beneficial to both.”
Grandin and then-College of Engineering Dean Hermann Viets launched the program in 1987 and today students leave with a degree in engineering as well as Chinese, French, German or Spanish. Students intern at companies such as BMW, Siemens, Volkswagen and ZF.
The program has graduated 312 students since its creation, the university said. There are presently 254 students enrolled.
The program also runs an annual colloquium that attracts about 165 engineering and language faculty, as well as representatives from the public sector and global companies to learn about the best practices in the field.
“That colloquium really put us on the map as the leader in the globalization of engineering education,” he said.
The International Engineering Program also offers graduate students studying engineering and German the opportunity to earn master’s degrees from URI and the Technical University of Braunschweig in Germany after studying at both schools.
Grandin said he plans to spend his retirement days consulting for universities with international engineering programs. He also wants to write a book about higher education and spend more time with his family.
Last year Grandin transitioned to working part-time and the university brought in Sigrid Berka as the program’s associate director with the intention that she eventually take over the program. Berka previously managed the Massachusetts Institute of Technology German Program for 13 years. The program arranges internships at German companies for MIT engineering students.