Commencement 2013: URI student finds German engineering the right combination

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After year abroad, North Attleboro resident to start career in Germany

KINGSTON, R.I. – April 23, 2013 – Brendan Grealish spent a year of his University of Rhode Island education studying and interning in Germany. As he prepares to graduate on May 19, he is preparing to return to Germany to work for a leading automotive engineering company.

Grealish enrolled at URI to study industrial engineering, but it was the university’s International Engineering Program that really caught his eye. The program required that he major in both engineering and a foreign language and spend a year abroad.

“I had taken Spanish in high school, but I had seen those Volkswagen commercials and knew the reputation of German engineering, so I picked German,” said Grealish, a resident of North Attleboro. “It was the right choice.”

When he arrived in Germany for six months of coursework at the Technical University of Braunschweig, he was nervous about his limited German language skills. But within a few weeks, he said he gained confidence and improved exponentially.

As part of his coursework in Germany, Grealish worked at the Institute for Automotive Management and Industrial Production where he and his professors sought to optimize supply chain systems in the automotive industry to reduce vehicle carbon dioxide emissions. Later he spent six months as an intern at DB Schenker, the German cargo rail company, where he helped develop a new logistics and monitoring structure to implement the company’s new booking system.

“I really learned a lot about myself while I was there,” said Grealish. “I liked being challenged every day, and speaking a new language all day every day was really demanding and at times tiring. When you have to concentrate on every word, that’s when you really learn what you’re made of. But it was also rewarding when, at the end, you find you can function and work in another language and culture.”

He also found that his internship in Germany solidified his interest in sustainability and confirmed his interest in industrial engineering as a career path.

“I originally wanted to go into business, but I’m a math and science guy, and in one of my high school classes I sort of stumbled on industrial engineering,” said Grealish, who also served as an orientation leader and a German student ambassador on campus. “It’s the perfect mix of engineering and business. It’s all about the flows of systems and networks, optimization and efficiency, the business aspect of engineering.”

With just weeks to go before he graduates, Grealish is finishing up his capstone engineering project – redesigning an industrial vibratory roller used for asphalt compacting, using lean manufacturing techniques to reduce energy, costs and time to manufacture.

Then he will get a chance to relax for a couple months. Grealish has already accepted a job beginning next fall at the ZF Group, a German company that is one of the world’s largest suppliers of automotive transmissions and chassis technologies. He is the only applicant from North America to be selected for the materials management track of the company’s 15-month management trainee program. He will spend about 15 months of training in Germany before being placed in a permanent position with ZF North America.

“I had everything planned out to pursue a dual master’s degree between URI and Braunschweig right after graduation, but I stumbled upon this job, went to the interview and got the position,” said Grealish, who had been awarded a prestigious scholarship to study in Germany. “I’ll still get my master’s, but I’ll probably go part-time and not until after the trainee program ends.”

The international experience that the URI student gained certainly paid off, and even when he returns to the U.S. he said he will retain ties to Germany.

“I spent so much time learning the language and culture that I want to maintain that connection,” Grealish said. “I’m sure I’ll always want to work for an American company with strong ties to Germany or a German company with strong ties to America. That’s important to me.”

Photo submitted by Brendan Grealish