UTEP, EU Students Embrace Dual Degrees

By Daniel Perez

UTEP News Service

An El Paso native who dreams of working in the transportation field in her hometown said a year studying in the Czech Republic has made her a better engineer and a more confident person.

Alejandra Gallegos, a civil engineering graduate student at The University of Texas at El Paso, earned a Master of Engineering in Technology in Transportation and Telecommunication from the Czech Technical University (CTU) in Prague in May. She will receive her master’s in civil engineering from UTEP when she returns to El Paso in late June.Marketa Vavrova, a civil engineering doctoral student from the Czech Republic, left, Alejandra Gallegos, on Skype from the Czech Republic, and Carlos Ferregut, Ph.D., professor of civil engineering and director of global engineering programs, were part of UTEP’s initial dual master’s program cohort. Photo by Laura Trejo / UTEP News Service  Marketa Vavrova, a civil engineering doctoral student from the Czech Republic, left, Alejandra Gallegos, on Skype from the Czech Republic, and Carlos Ferregut, Ph.D., professor of civil engineering and director of global engineering programs, were part of UTEP’s initial dual master’s program cohort. Photo by Laura Trejo / UTEP News Service

She is the first UTEP student to participate in the Transatlantic Dual-Degree Master Program in Transportation in Logistics Systems, which involves UTEP, CTU, and the University of Zilina (UNIZA) in Slovakia. It is UTEP's first dual master’s program.

Gallegos called her nine months at CTU academically and personally enriching. The experience has broadened her knowledge and abilities in the transportation and logistics field to include emerging technologies. At the same time, her interactions with an international cadre of peers and mentors have allowed her to re-examine her own strengths and weakness and reassess her capabilities.

“I am more than satisfied with the experience in the Czech Republic,” the 24-year-old Gallegos wrote in an email. “I know it will definitely impact my life in a positive way and open the door to many opportunities.”

The University entered into this partnership in September 2010 to enhance its global presence and provide its students with international experience in such subjects as mobility growth and research projects in infrastructure engineering.

The first four cohorts are funded by the U.S. Department of Education ($416,000) and the European Union (about $475,000). The program’s goal is to have 24 graduate students each from the United States and the European Union learning about transportation and logistics systems, regional planning and related business studies and technologies.

“This program gives opportunities to our students to get global experience,” said Carlos Ferregut, Ph.D., professor of civil engineering and director of Global Engineering Programs. He initiated the discussions for the dual master’s program about five years ago. “It complements their knowledge and develops their adaptability skills. It makes them more tolerant of different cultures and exposes them to different ways to conduct business in these fields. Of course, they also earn two master’s degrees at the same time, which makes them more marketable.”

The first cohort, which started in fall 2011, included four students from CTU and three from UNIZA. All of them successfully completed their studies at UTEP and graduated in May. One of the CTU students, Marketa Vavrova, is enrolled in UTEP’s civil engineering doctoral program.

She said the challenging program gave the visiting students a unique opportunity to experience learning in different ways academically and socially. For example, the students became members of UTEP’s chapter of the Institute of Transportation Engineers and conducted research in the University’s Border Intermodal Gateway (BIG) Transportation Lab. Outside the classroom, the visitors got involved in community service activities, which is uncommon in the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

“All these experiences helped each of us to develop as a person and an engineer,” said Vavrova, who added that attentive UTEP mentors, especially Ruey Long “Kelvin” Cheu, Ph.D., associate professor of civil engineering and project coordinator, made the experience easier.

Cheu praised the program for its versatility and interdisciplinary approach. He said discussions already have begun to expand the program at UTEP to include a Master of Science in Industrial Engineering, which will mean another option for visiting students.

Ladislav Bína, CSc., associate professor of logistic and transportation processes at CTU and project coordinator for the EU institutions, said leaders from CTU and UNIZA will visit UTEP in the fall to talk about other fields, research opportunities and Ph.D. programs.

Bína said the CTU students embraced the opportunity to study at UTEP. “It was a selling point for our transportation sciences program,” he said.

UTEP’s College of Engineering has used this experience to start several other consortiums. Last spring, it began a dual bachelor’s program with Seo Kyeong University (SKU) in South Korea. UTEP provides instruction in metallurgical and materials engineering and SKU offers nanoconvergence engineering. The college also is in the process of starting another dual master’s program in electrical engineering with a university in Chile. 

“This is the global trend,” Ferregut said. “We’re among the first in The University of Texas System to create these programs in engineering.”