A retired professor of German and the executive director of the program for more than 20 years, Grandin and former URI Engineering Dean Hermann Viets conceived of the idea of “internationalizing” engineering education by encouraging engineering students to study a foreign language – initially German, but later French, Spanish and Chinese – and participate in an internship and study abroad. He believed that engineers with multicultural skills would be better prepared to enter the global workforce.
“John Grandin was visionary in creating the International Engineering Program, and he turned it into one of the most prestigious undergraduate programs on campus, attracting top students from across the country,” said URI President David M. Dooley. “He is most deserving of having the IEP House named for him.”
Legislation authorizing the naming of the building was passed by the Rhode Island General Assembly and signed by Governor Gina Raimondo on May 21.
The IEP program was launched in 1987 and has become a model for dozens of similar programs around the country. Students in the program earn degrees in both engineering and a foreign language, and they spend a year abroad studying at partner universities and interning at an international company.
The IEP House is a former fraternity house that was converted in 1998 into a residence hall for students in the program and office space for program administrators. It houses 40 American and international exchange students. Students who live there engage in a wide range of international events and activities, including frequent coffee hours and film screenings held in a foreign language. A second IEP House, named for Texas Instruments, was opened in 2007, and houses 36 students and includes a full dining room and private chef.
At the naming ceremony, J. Vernon Wyman, URI assistant vice president for business services, shared stories of the challenges he and Grandin undertook to seek approval and convert the formerly run-down fraternity building into a modern residence hall.
“John is someone who had a vision that could cut through all the red tape necessary to accomplish his goal,” said Wyman. “He saw through the total mess of what the building was to find what great potential it had.”
The ceremony, which took place on Grandin’s 75th birthday, also included comments by Winnie Brownell, dean of the URI College of Arts and Sciences, Sigrid Berka, director of the International Engineering Program, and several IEP alumni who lived in the house.
“I had doubts at first about whether I really wanted to have my office in a building with 40 undergraduates,” Grandin joked, “but it was a very rewarding experience.
“I know that naming a building isn’t something that happens overnight, so I am incredibly moved that you took the time to do this when so many other things are going on,” he added. “I am very honored to have my name on this building.”
John Grandin, founder of the URI International Engineering Program, reveals a sign naming the IEP House for him. (Photo by Joe Giblin).