URI mechanical and German International Engineering Program students win scholarships from German government to study, intern overseas

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Grace Sanita and Conner Briden, mechanical engineering students at the University of Rhode Island who won scholarships to study in Germany next year.
Photos by Michael Salerno Photography

KINGSTON, R.I., May 26, 2016—Two University of Rhode Island mechanical engineering students have received scholarships from the German government to study and intern in the country next year.

Grace Sanita, 21, of Newport, will study the German language and work on a research project examining what causes aircraft wings to ice up during storms.

Conner Briden, 20, of Coventry, will also study the language, and his research project will examine production automation for cars.

Both students are in their fourth year of URI’s acclaimed five-year International Engineering Program, which combines engineering with a language.

“I’m very excited to go,” says Sanita. “It’s a great opportunity that’s unique to URI and makes this college special. My three years of engineering and language classes have prepared me for this next step.”

The undergraduate scholarships are from the German Academic Exchange Service, or Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst, also known as DAAD. Sanita and Briden will receive a monthly living expense, insurance coverage and travel allowance. They competed against 211 applicants from other American and Canadian universities.

Sanita is heading to the Technische Universität in Darmstadt, outside Frankfurt, and Briden is going to the Technische Universität in Braunschweig, west of Berlin. In addition to language studies, they will work on research projects for six months and then participate in internships at German companies.

“The selection process is a tough one,” says IEP Director Sigrid Berka. “We are fortunate to have landed two URI recipients in this year’s pool of 211 applicants. It shows that IEP students can compete with the best and brightest from higher ranked universities in the U.S. and Canada. Setting them up with an academic research project in a renowned institute lab at their respective universities helped their cause.”

Raised in Wrentham, Mass., Sanita is a graduate of King Philip Regional High School, where she excelled in math and science, especially physics. Her family moved to Newport in 2013.

URI was her first choice for college. “I was impressed by the engineering program, and I wanted to get the big state school experience without getting lost in the crowd. That’s what URI is all about.”

She’s a member of the URI chapter of the Society of Women Engineers and Theta Tau, a co-ed professional engineering fraternity on campus.

Her sophomore year she was a Resident Academic Mentor to freshmen engineering students at Tucker Hall. Her junior year, she worked as a resident advisor, also at Tucker. She’s also a long-time member of the URI Ultimate Frisbee Team—“Disky Business.”

From her first days at URI she knew she wanted to study mechanical engineering, but wasn’t sure of her concentration. After taking a course in fluid mechanics, she was hooked on aerodynamics.

Germany was her language of choice since her grandparents on both sides are German. “Germany is also an engineering mecca in the world today,” Sanita says. “I love the German way—precision, hard work, success. And I like to work, so I expect to fit in there.”

Her de-icing research, she hopes, will help save lives. As for her internship, she might work for Lufthansa Technik, the German airline maintenance and overhaul operation, MTU Aero Engines or Airbus.

It’ll be her first time away from home for an extended period. She went on a URI J-term trip last year to Germany, but it was only for 10 days during winter break.

Her parents, Laura and Drew, are already planning their itinerary to visit. “My parents are as excited as I am,” says Sanita. “They’re also really proud of me. Without URI, I wouldn’t have the chance to go abroad, study a language, work on an important engineering project, and do an internship in another country. That’s amazing.”

Raised in Coventry, Briden attended Coventry High School, where, besides math and science, he also excelled in writing, history and music. He plays the baritone horn.

He, too, came to URI for the engineering program. One of his proudest accomplishments at the University is working in the lab of Professor Mohammad Faghri, who helped create a new paper-based platform for conducting a range of diagnostics for conditions ranging from Lyme disease and HIV to Ebola and malaria.

Briden is a URI Centennial Scholar, and he received the Dr. Barbara Woods Memorial German Studies Award last year. He has also been on the Dean’s list for the last three years.

He hopes to do an internship at Hexagon Manufacturing Intelligence, which makes measuring equipment. He has already landed a summer internship with Hexagon in North Kingstown, R.I., and hopes to continue with the same company in Wetzlar, Germany.

“I’m very humbled being chosen for this award,” says Briden, who will be making his first trip to Germany. “It’s a big honor. I’m so grateful.”