BS Senior Spotlight: Cultural Learning Through Co-Op

Garnering cross-cultural skills and understanding of the engineering industry on a global scale, environmental engineering senior Marina D’Souza is most grateful for the memories and opportunities she’s been able to encounter. As president of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) for two years, or through early research exposure and international co-op positions -- D'Souza has truly felt a sense of culture and community during her time at Drexel.

Marina D’Souza

“I have devoted my college career to ASCE. It’s funny because even though I’m an environmental engineer, I’ve been president for two years in a row. I started off in ASCE during my freshman year, just because it was an interesting departmental organization, and I figured it’d help me learn more about my department and meet new people in it.” says D'Souza. She’s particularly enjoyed the leadership and communication skills she has learned throughout her time as president.

“It’s been a really nice experience. You get to learn a lot, especially in terms of how to coordinate things on a larger scale for event planning. Group projects in class involve three or four people, and scaling that up is a different challenge,” says D'Souza. “It’s about trying to understand your audience, and anticipate what they might be interested in. We recently held a conference where we had to accommodate 150 attendees. It’s just having a good  variety, planning, getting in touch with speakers. We had Dean Walker give our opening address, and our keynote speaker was the CEO of Urban Engineers. It’s really cool, because he actually graduated from Drexel. He actually did a co-op at Urban Engineers, and now he’s the CEO. It’s a really great perspective, and I think a lot of people enjoyed talking to him.”

On another hand, D'Souza recalls spending her second co-op abroad, splitting her time between three months in Dubai at a manufacturing company, as well as three months in East Germany as an undergraduate research assistant.

“I’ve done co-op in all different countries, including two experiences in the U.S., and it’s been really interesting to learn how company and employee culture changes from place to place. Some are friendlier than others, and some departments are
more tightly knit,” D'Souza recalls. “A big difference I noticed in Germany was how common it is to have a coffee break first thing in the morning. Employees usually come into work at around 8:00am, and about an hour later, everyone takes a thirty to forty five minute coffee break-- every morning, every day. It’s just a time for everyone in the department to sit together and discuss things outside of work and allow a bit of social bonding. I thought that was really nice because it’s not something you really see over here.”

D'Souza recalls how valuable these networking experiences have been, even noting she still maintains relationships with former employees from her time in Germany and is happy knowing she left having absorbed everything she could.

“When I moved to Germany, I didn’t know what to expect. I went there knowing no German at all-- it was kind of a challenge, but it worked out,” says D'Souza. “I learned a lot, and met some really cool scientists there. It was a really good experience to learn about researching a topic I initially had no knowledge of.”

During her undergraduate career, D'Souza spent a lot of time in research affairs. Her enamor for the subject began with participation in the STAR Scholars Program, where she was able to work with CAEE Professor, Dr. Christopher Sales. They’d previously worked together during her Freshman Design sequence, and have been working on a research project involving plasma technology for nearly two years now.

“[Dr. Sales] is awesome. He’s a great professor and research mentor,” D'Souza says enthusiastically. “He’s been so supportive, and really shaped what I want to do after graduation. I’m hoping to start a graduate program in the fall-- I haven’t committed anywhere yet, but I’m most likely going to move to Colorado.”