One offering of Engineering 225B is no semester in a traditional lecture hall.
Students stand on the rim and peer down into the world’s most productive diamond mine, in Jwaneng, Botswana, seeing if it reaches the depth—which they had calculated in class—at which diamond is more stable than graphite.
“It is basically a huge pit. It is roughly 2 to 3 kilometers deep and runs 24/7/365,” said Caitlin Bowerman, a junior biomedical engineering major who was one of 20 in the inaugural class.
Up close, the machinery used in the pit is huge—the tires taller than a man, Bowerman said. But from above, “they look no bigger than a toy truck.”
Thermodynamics, Fluid Mechanics, Heat and Mass Transfer, a required, foundational course for all engineering majors, can now be studied abroad. Students see concepts they learn in the classroom put into practice in the cities, villages and countryside in Botswana and neighboring Zimbabwe.
In the only formal educational relationship between the Case School of Engineering and an African institute of higher learning, chemical engineering professors Dan Lacks and Mohan Sankaran lead the three-week course in May, days after the spring semester ends.
At the University of Botswana, in the capitol city Gaborone, students receive the same number of hours of instruction as during a semester. They also receive an international experience but still have time to participate in summer internships when they return home.
Students who took the class said the advantages over the traditional offering were many.
In addition to the trip to the diamond mine, the teachers used other opportunities to reinforce material learned on the University of Botswana campus. The class visited a water system that used a generator to pump water from a deep well to a village roughly 40 kilometers away and toured a cultural village where mud hut walls provided heat during the night and cooling during the day, due to the slow convection and conduction of heat. They viewed Victoria Falls, the largest waterfalls in the world—an amazing example of fluid kinematics and dynamics.
“Since the course was held abroad, my recollections of what I learned are inextricably tied to my many fond memories of the trip,” said Greg Dornback, a junior chemical engineering major.
“Without going back through my notes, I think I remember more concepts from that course from nearly four months ago than after returning from a monthlong winter break and trying to remember course material from the past fall semester.”
Students said the learning curve was steep, but Lacks and Sankaran were easily accessible in a small class—answering questions, going over homework and clarifying. And, no other classes competed for their time and attention.
Beyond the coursework, CWRU students interacted with students, professors and residents of Botswana and explored.
“We learned traditional games, danced local dances and went on three fantastic safaris which I will always remember,” said Douglas Brubaker, a third-year applied mathematics major pursuing a minor and master’s degree in chemical engineering. “On our last night we had a barbeque with about eight CWRU alumni living in Botswana. It was great to hear their perspective on the country and their experiences here at CWRU.”
The course will be offered again in May 2012, tentatively beginning a week after the spring semester ends. Interested students may email Sankaran at (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Lacks at (email@example.com).