Each May for the past 10 years, Brigham Young University mechanical engineering students have been traveling to Singapore for a product design and development study abroad experience. In 2023, 50 students from three universities, including sixteen from BYU, took projects like an automated tourniquet and a sensor system for blind individuals from ideation to completion in just two weeks.
The professors over the study abroad tasked the students with finding an issue to solve or improve from the conditions they observed in Singapore. To come up with these projects, students visited museums, talked with emergency medical technicians, and surveyed the public.
On one of the first days, students experienced a place called Dialog in the Dark, an exhibition for people who are blind or visually impaired that educates the public on some of the challenges they face. This provided inspiration for many of the students’ projects.
Jessica Stringer, a sophomore in the program with her sights currently set on biomedical engineering, noted how valuable this process was for her, to experience both the frustrations and the accomplishment of taking a product through its iterations from start to finish.
“It was super cool to be able to interact with people who might potentially want something like that and get some feedback and see if what we were doing would be a potential success,” Stringer said.
Stringers’ team chose to help improve object detection for the blind. The white cane that blind individuals use only assists with things at ground level, so the team worked on a device that would make it possible to detect things above the torso, such as cupboards.
Garrett Graham, who is aiming to enter the biomedical industry, shared the different ways he felt the study abroad better prepared him for his future career.
“I had learned lots of things about how to be a better teammate, how to work with others, and to play to their strengths. And those are lessons that will last with me.”
The international experience is life-changing both inside and outside the classroom. While in Singapore, students visited temples, ate international food, and interacted with people from all over the world.
“It was really cool to have the opportunity to experience and interact with so many different cultures,” Stringer said.
Additionally, Graham observed that the country is bursting with innovation.
“Everywhere you look, there's big buildings like things you wouldn't see in America, the infrastructure, everything is just on a whole other level,” Graham said. “There's really no bounds to their creativity there…You wake up and walk outside and you just see a country that's filled with innovation and creativity for design.”
Dr. Brian Jensen has led the study abroad for five years. He appreciates the opportunity it gives the students to learn how to work with people from another country, and design for people from a different culture.
“For the students, I feel like there are a few really, really cool things, one is that they get to have this international design experience,” Jensen said. “It looks great on a resume to have this international design experience, and it prepares them for the workplace where they'll be working with people from all different backgrounds and cultures.”
Despite the international atmosphere, many of the people in Singapore speak English, and Dr. Jensen appreciates the ease of connection this creates for the students. He feels like the program has only gotten better with time, and hopes to see it continue to improve.
“I feel like we've gotten better at helping the students to understand what to do, and I just hope to see that collaboration continue to bear fruit, because I think it's been improving the experience for the students,” Jensen said. “Even from the beginning, this has been a fantastic thing for students, but I think it's gotten better at helping them to understand what to do.”