From sightseeing in the bustling city of Berlin to eating mouthwatering schnitzel in Aalen, 29 students in Virginia Tech’s College of Engineering experienced Germany’s culture and most notable attractions while gaining insight into the country’s engineering industry.

The two-week study abroad experience, in collaboration with Aalen University, focused on the importance of green engineering and how sustainability practices are incorporated at scale. The concept of green engineering has been around for quite some time but has become increasingly important as technology is enhanced and energy outputs are increased in a variety of engineering disciplines.

The group visited German-based companies such as Mercedes Benz, Daimler Trucks, and Palm Paper, the country’s largest corrugated cardboard manufacturer, to see firsthand how sustainability practices are incorporated into manufacturing and production processes.

students during xxxx tour
Students look closely at Daimler's new prototype electric tractor trailer during a tour of the factory. Photo courtesy of Scott Dunning.

Viewing culture through a new lens

Scott Dunning, associate department head of the Bradley Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE), led the trip with hopes of showing students cultural differences and the engineering profession outside the United States.

“Many of the students on the trip had never had the opportunity to travel internationally,” said Dunning. “Seeing a different country and culture for the first time from what I would call ‘value glasses’ of others is an invaluable experience.” 

The engineering educator went on to explain how studying abroad can impact students in terms of professional growth as well.

“Once they graduate, a lot of these students will go to work as engineers for companies that are international,” he said. “I wanted this trip to help them to understand that people coming from different cultures can view the same problem differently, which can create a rich experience and lead to better solutions.” 

Students said they gained a newfound perspective after just 14 days in one of Europe’s most visited countries.

Engineering, culture, and industry: The student outlook

Juan Martinez-Medina, electrical engineering

Most of the students, including Juan Martinez-Medina, were fascinated by the number of robots used in production and manufacturing. 

“Seeing the levels of automation in the factories we toured was an incredible experience and opened my eyes to more fields of engineering,” said Martinez-Medina. “The professors and students we spoke to at Aalen University over the course of the trip were incredibly passionate about their fields, and their insight was meaningful. I enjoyed every second of the trip.”

student stands in front of landmark building in Germany
Juan Martinez-Medina stands in front of a museum in Berlin. Photo courtesy of Juan Martinez-Medina.

Will Webster, computer engineering 

Will Webster appreciated Germany’s high attention to sustainability compared with the United States.

“Our hotel room did not have any electricity (temperature control, lights, or outlets) if the room key was not inserted into a device,” said Webster. “Most buildings also do not have air conditioning because electricity is a lot more expensive in Germany.”

Students also were surprised to experience a little bit of “home” while being more than 4,000 miles from home. 

“While we were at Daimler Trucks, the person giving the lecture talked about autonomous driving and Daimler's acquisition of Torc Robotics,” said Webster. “It was really cool to hear the tour guide mention a company started by Virginia Tech alumni that develops autonomous vehicles. Torc Robotics is located in Blacksburg, and I think that would be a great opportunity if I get the chance to have a summer internship with them or work there after graduating. My original career interest in ECE was robotics, but I could see it shifting towards autonomous vehicles after this experience.”

student smiles at camera in building overlooking the city in Germany with the German flag in the background.
William Webster poses during a tour of the Reichstag Building, which is where parliament meets in Berlin. Photo courtesy of William Webster.

Sarah Fox, computer engineering

For Sarah Fox, the two-week trip abroad has sparked an interest in working outside the United States after graduation.

“I never thought that I would study or start a career in another country, but this experience has opened my eyes,” said Fox. “Germany excels in many aspects of engineering that I didn’t know about. There are many resources there to help as well, making a move like that seem easier than I originally thought it could ever be.”


Female engineering students stand outside of glass building in Germany
Sarah Fox (second from left) stands with three other female Virginia Tech engineering students in front of the Reichstag building. Photo courtesy of Sarah Fox.

Aniruddh Chauhan, computer engineering

As a car enthusiast, Aniruddah Chauhan enjoyed learning more about the country’s automotive industry and how it contributed to Germany’s economic success. 

“The Mercedes Benz Museum tour was my favorite,” said Chauhan. “I really love cars, and Mercedes is one of my favorite automotive groups. The museum did a brilliant job showcasing Germany's history and how the automobile industry helped the country flourish. Germany is known for its quality engineering, especially in the auto industry, so in some way, this museum was a tribute to Germany and Mercedes both. I also got to see seven-time Formula 1 World Champion Lewis Hamilton's car, so it made this trip even better.” 


student poses in front of mercedes benz logo.
Aniruddh Chauhan poses in front of the Mercedes Benz Factory before the tour. Photo courtesy of Aniruddh Chauhan.

Erin Cox, electrical engineering 

Erin Cox is passionate about renewable energy and enjoyed seeing green engineering all around her while in Germany.

“After college, I’m pursuing a degree in renewable energy,” said Cox. “Because of this, I took special note of renewable energy use in Germany versus the U.S. In Germany, the use of wind turbines and solar farms are more commonly intermixed with everyday life. There seemed to be a more conscious bond with renewables and the environment as well. It’s like caring for the environment is ingrained into their culture.”

Cox was also intrigued by the Daimler Truck tour and its electric vehicles (EVs) because of her involvement with the student design team Bolt.

“I really enjoyed seeing the electric trucks Daimler is currently working on developing,” she said. “I have worked with EVs for a while now (specifically electric motorcycles), so I found it really interesting to compare and contrast how the two EVs were designed and manufactured.”


students stand in front of river with sunsetting in the background
Erin Cox (third from left) stands with other Virginia Tech students while watching the sunset over River Spree. Photo courtesy of Erin Cox.

An enriching adventure for all

The benefits of studying abroad are often discussed, but usually only when it comes to students. Scott Dunning has led five international explorations during his time as a professor and has gained something special with each trip – a sense of fulfillment.

“Personally, as a teacher, I get excited when I see people learn,” said Dunning. “When you’re immersed in the culture of another country, it’s a special kind of a learning opportunity. In a very short period of time, you can learn so much, and that's what excites me – bringing students and letting them experience that for themselves.”


Students enjoy dinner together at a large table in a German restaurant
Students enjoy their last dinner together in Aalen with Aalen University faculty. Photo courtesy of Scott Dunning.
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