California State University, Long Beach
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CSULB, Switzerland Engineering School Team Up For Program

Published: May 2, 2011

Alvaro Monge and a group of students
Alvaro Monge (far right) with group in Switzerland.

It’s a good thing Alvaro Monge didn’t simply delete an e-mail he received one day from Switzerland back in 2006. If he had, CSULB may not be a key player in what is now known as The Summer University in Computer Science. The program promotes interaction between computer science faculty and students from select U.S. universities and their counterparts at Switzerland’s Haute Ecole d’Ingénierie et de Gestion du Canton de Vaud (HEIG-VD), a Swiss engineering school.

“They contacted several universities in California, particularly computer science departments five years ago I was one of the people they contacted and luckily I said, ‘Yes, let’s do something.’”

“The Summer University program is an idea that grew out of the conversations I had with the faculty from Switzerland,” said Monge, a CSULB computer science professor, noting that the campus will host the program this July for the first time in its five-year history. “They contacted several universities in California, particularly computer science departments. Five years ago I was one of the people they contacted and luckily I said, ‘Yes, let’s do something.’”

From those initial conversations, the collaboration created a summer program, funded by the Board of Higher Education of the Canton of Vaud, Switzerland, (DGES) since its inception in 2007.

“It’s been a great experience,” said Monge. “They came and talked to us before starting and we gave them a tour of the campus and the facilities. They did research to find universities that had computer science programs and reached out to them. When I responded to them they then wanted to come out and meet me and some of our other faculty. Our relationship grew from there.”

One of the program’s major goals is to provide an opportunity for international collaboration, cultural exchange and networking between American and Swiss students and faculty. For Swiss students, it’s a chance to immerse themselves into a 100 percent English-speaking environment.

“Out of this program, they learn to communicate better, become more sociable and learn to become members of a team and work on a particular project,” said Monge. “Most of the classes require that.” He points out that even classes taught in Switzerland during three of the first four years of Summer University were all done so in English.

From July 4-29, 32 students are scheduled to be on campus as part of Summer University; 20 from Switzerland’s HEIG-VD, four from San Jose State University, six from CSULB, and two from India.

Students will take four courses, each one using a computer lab in which they will work in teams. They will complete assignments by applying concepts learned in the discussion section of the courses. Students will be placed in the courses according to stated preferences and efforts are made to have a diverse set of students in each of the courses in order to meet one of the goals of the program, international collaboration.

Alvaro Monge
Alvaro Monge

“Each campus that participates in the program defines those four courses and their participation in the program determines what students can earn toward their program at the university,” said Monge. “We give our students credit for a directed studies course and that counts as an elective in their undergraduate degree. So, they earn full credit.

“It’s a big commitment, because it’s a full day and it’s Monday through Friday,” he added. “There may be one or two days we make an excursion to a local company or we have guest speakers, so it’s all related in some way to the class they are taking or the local industry.”

In addition, the program has a social agenda with trips to the beach, Hollywood and a Major League Baseball game on the schedule.

Classes are taught by faculty from each of the participating institutions and the Switzerland congregation will have assistance from an additional staff member.

Monge, who has taught courses in Summer University each of the first four years, will not do so this time around because of a busy schedule administering the program. Instead, CSULB Professor Burkhard Englert and Associate Professor Todd Ebert, both from the Computer Engineering and Computer Science Department will be among the faculty.

Scheduled courses include Computer Graphics Applications, Image Processing, Scala, Constraint Programming, Multiprocessor Programming, Artificial Intelligence and Games, and Introduction to CUDA Programming.

“When we went to Switzerland, it was a whole new learning experience for our students,” said Monge. “They had to take a train to get to the university and do a little bit of walking and they’re not used to that because they are just used to driving. A lot of our students commute, so when we went to Switzerland, we stayed in dorms, which is the first time for some of them; they took public transportation and relied on it and ate cafeteria food. These are things, unless they are full-time students living in the dorms on campus, they don’t experience. I’m sure it will be much the same kind of experience for the Swiss students who come here this summer.”

“I can’t stress how much it was beneficial, both academically and culturally,” said Computer Engineering and Computer Science graduate student Haney Williams, who went on one of the trips to Switzerland as a senior. “I just felt very welcomed in Switzerland and the Swiss organization provided a lot for us, from school expenses, one great meal a day, dorm, transportation, trips, company visits, and extracurricular activity, and even some pocket money to spend.”