Transatlantic technology workshop to put West Lafayette native on leadership path

VALPARAISO, Ind. — Valparaiso University engineering student and West Lafayette resident, Erin Dillon is one of 12 young leaders from the United States invited to participate in an international workshop on sustainable architecture and urban planning this September.

Erin Dillon

West Lafayette resident Erin Dillon, a senior civil engineering and German major, is shown here in Reutlingen, Germany. Behind her is the construction site for a new city center, which she worked on as part of her co-op in Germany through the Valparaiso International Engineering Program-German.

Dillon, who spent the past academic year working on a project to build a new city hall and civic center for the German city of Reutlingen, was invited by the German American Chamber of Commerce of the Midwest into its Transatlantic Program-Young Technology Leaders 2010 program. During the workshop, Sept. 19 to 27, Dillon will see first-hand how Germany is crafting new communities and energy efficient spaces while meeting top architects, technology providers and thought leaders in the fields of sustainable architecture and urban planning.

“What I see our country needing is more long-term investment in our buildings and infrastructure,” said Dillon, a civil engineering and German major from West Lafayette, Ind. “It’s coming to our attention here as energy costs rise in the U.S. and our cities grow. We need to think about how we organize cities efficiently, construct buildings, and integrate green space to make sure our communities provide better living environments for their residents.”

Kraig Olejniczak, dean of Valpo’s College of Engineering, said Dillon exemplifies the qualities that distinguish Valpo engineering graduates.

“Erin is both an outstanding engineer and a leader,” Olejniczak said. “Developing buildings and communities that are both environmentally sustainable and highly functional has emerged as one of the most crucial engineering challenges of this century. Erin’s experiences at Valpo have prepared her for a leadership role in solving these challenges.”

The program brings together a select group of future decision makers from the U.S. and Germany who are beginning their professional careers or late in their studies, allowing them to build a network of colleagues who share their knowledge and advance the fields of sustainable architecture and urban planning.

Dillon studied and worked in Germany last year through the Valpo International Engineering Program-German, a program designed for students who want to pursue an engineering degree while developing their language skills and cross-cultural understanding.

After spending the fall semester taking engineering and German language classes at Valpo’s Reutlingen Study Center, Dillon worked with the firm managing the construction of a new multi-purpose center for Reutlingen. Dillon discusses her VIEP-German experience on Valpo’s YouTube channel.

“The new city center is a great project for the people of Reutlingen because they don’t currently have a place for conferences, concerts and other community events,” Dillon said. “Once completed, the project will really enhance the quality of life for Reutlingen’s citizens. Helping with a project like that is very rewarding.”

“During my year in Germany I really saw the fruits of my labor over the four years because I saw my interests in Germany and engineering really come together,” said Dillon, who plans to pursue a career combining her interests in geotechnical and structural engineering. “It’s gotten me really excited about the opportunities that I’ll have in the future.”

Dillon took an environmental engineering course before going to Germany, and then took an alternative energy class while in Germany.

“I saw how all of these concepts were being applied everywhere you went in these cities,” she said. “That was really amazing to see, even in a place like Hamburg, which is a major port and industrial city. Yet it was named a European Green Capital because of its initiatives to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and protect the environment. It really improves the quality of living.”

“Seeing what I was learning about in action made me ten times more excited because you could see how engineering thought leaders were applying these concepts in actual projects,” said Dillon, who heard about the workshop from German professor Sarah DeMaris.

“It looked like it would fit me like a glove,” Dillon said. “It was a perfect combination of my interests in German language and culture and in engineering.”

Destinations that she’ll visit include Berlin, Hamburg, Cologne and Freiburg – hotspots for sustainable architecture and urban planning.

“I’ve seen most of these cities, but this will be an insider’s look at the technical side of things,” she said. “It really will build on my experience in the Valpo International Engineering Program and allow me to expand my international network by meeting with leaders in the field.”

After the conference, Dillon said the program will support regular reunion conferences so that past, present and future workshop participants can continue to grow their networks with other emerging leaders in technical fields.

“The long-term experience will be fantastic,” she said. “I’ll be able to call on my fellow participants and they’ll be able to call on me for assistance in finding creative solutions to a wide range of issues that impact people’s lives.”

More information about the VIEP-German is available online at www.valpo.edu/engineering/programs/viep/index.php.

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