Faculty led engineering trip intersects culture and history with exploration and education

July 11, 2023

Desert and pyramids with men riding camels

In January, a Quinnipiac educational excursion will land in Cairo, Egypt, as the starting point of a two-week experiential engineering trip spanning thousands of years of Egyptian history and culture.

School of Computing and Engineering professor of mechanical engineering Grant Crawford, and associate professor of software engineering Ruby ElKharboutly, developed and proposed the trip through Quinnipiac’s Department of Cultural and Global Engagement. Crawford and ElKharboutly will head the faculty-led course abroad from January 3 through January 17, 2024.

Their expectation is to provide 10 to 12 students with an unparalleled experience as global citizens, even as they explore the intersection of ancient Egyptian art and engineering as related to form and function, said Crawford.

“Being an engineering program, we definitely want to point out to the students how form - or how something looks; and its function - or what it does; come together in various architecture that we’ll see," said Crawford. "But there are also similar functional considerations for something that’s primarily a piece of art, such as sculpture."

Students will be prepared for their travel and learning experience with four to five preliminary sessions during the fall semester, including a lesson on sketching as a reflective tool.

“We tell them we don’t want them to be artists, but when you sketch something, you have to look at it and reflect on it much more deeply than when you just snap a photo," said Crawford. "We want them to take the time and really lock in on a few various things; think about what they’re looking at and get a deeper appreciation for what it is. And you can do that through sketching."

During their journey, students will keep a digital journal. They’ll write some reflective pieces and include some of their most memorable photos, as well as sketches.

“We really want to encourage them; because this is their keepsake from the trip,” said Crawford. “The last question in the journal is, “When you look back at this ten years from now, what message do you want to give to yourself?’

The time abroad will also create an opportunity to experience life in another culture that’s different from what students may be used to in the United States and help to develop a level of comfort with traveling in a different country, said Crawford.

Their journey will begin in Cairo, home to the Great Pyramid, the Pyramid of Khafre, the Pyramid of Menkaure and the Great Sphinx. From Cairo, they’ll launch into an exploration of Alexandria, then on to Luxor, followed by cruising the Nile River to Aswan. The Valley of the Kings, Temple of Karnak, Temple of Luxor, Bibliotheca Alexandria, Coptic churches, mosques, citadels, museums and catacombs are just some of many remarkable sights they’ll encounter. As the begin their return to Cairo, students will experience visiting a Nubian village, an Egyptian market, and the oasis city of Faiyum.

Having led similar two-week Quinnipiac excursions abroad with students traveling to Italy, Switzerland and Germany, Crawford said such trips help to remove some of the “anxiety and mystique,” students may have about traveling the world.

“By the time we get to the end of our Europe trips, students develop that confidence that they can get out and continue to learn more about the world in which we live,” said Crawford.

As one who has lived in South Korea, Germany, Iraq, Turkey, and Afghanistan, and traveled to the Philippine Islands, Taiwan, Ireland, Scotland, Italy, India, Austria, Switzerland, Canada, and Mexico, as well as to all 50 US states and Puerto Rico, Crawford is looking forward to experiencing Egypt with the same fresh eyes as the students.

“This is my first trip to Egypt, and I think experiencing the great pyramids and the sphinxes will be a highlight to see. They are things that capture the imagination, as the last of the seven wonders of the ancient world,” said Crawford. “I expect it to be similar to when I was able to go to the Taj Mahal in India. As much as I looked forward to it, words cannot describe how powerful it was to experience that in person. It was marvelous.”

ElKharboutly is from Egypt and visits each year. Her contribution to the organization, planning and execution of the upcoming faculty-led course abroad has been pivotal, said Crawford.

“The main reason I chose to develop this experience for students is because there is some iconic architecture and artwork to see in that part of the world, but also because we have Ruby,” said Crawford. “I’ve done the Europe trip, and with that I model, I went to Ruby and asked her what she thought, and she thought it was a great idea. So we sat down and worked this up together.”

The trip can be undertaken by students as ENR 490H (0 or 1 credit hour), and can count as a QU Honors Program Signature Experience, or as a Grand Challenge Scholar Signature Experience. Some openings remain, but the opportunity is closing fast.

The application portal closes July 15.

“This is just another way for students to have a unique cultural experience, look at the world a little bit differently, broaden their horizons, and develop themselves as individuals,” said Crawford.

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