URI ocean engineering student turns year abroad into career in Germany

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Saratoga Springs, N.Y., native lands job with major shipping company

KINGSTON, R.I. – May 6, 2009 – When Loren Eckardt enrolled in the University of Rhode Island’s 5 year International Engineering Program, he was excited about the 12 months he would spend studying and working abroad following his fourth year. As he prepares to graduate from URI on May 17, Eckardt looks forward to returning to Europe and living there full-time after having accepted a job in Bremen, Germany.

“My family is of German origin, and I have relatives who have learned German and worked there before, and they gave me some good advice,” said Eckardt, who grew up in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. “The year I spent in Germany for school expanded my cultural understanding and I came back with a new mindset. I knew that I would change when I was over there – that was part of the plan, to grow – but I didn’t know how much I would grow from it.”

Eckardt’s interest in engineering grew from computer design classes he took at Saratoga Springs High School and his aptitude for math and science. When he got to URI, he chose to major in ocean engineering, which merged his passion for engineering with his love of the ocean.

During his year abroad, Eckardt worked for six months in Hanover, Germany, at the Coastal Research Center in the largest wave tank in the world, where he helped doctoral students set up and run tests on a massive model of a levee system.

“It gave me great insight into the research process, and it exposed me to facilities that I couldn’t have seen anywhere else,” Eckardt said. “Having that partnership with a foreign university gave me an opportunity that wouldn’t have been available to me otherwise.”

His time in Germany also helped him improve his German language skills.

“I was apprehensive about learning German at first, “ he said, “but the German faculty at URI made the experience so much less intimidating than it could have been. Once I got to Germany, I found that those I met were willing and able to help; they were appreciative that I wanted to learn the language.”

While at URI, Eckardt played on the University’s rugby team, worked in the Sports Information Office, and participated in the professional engineering society Theta Tau and the Marine Technology Society. He also took a one-year course learning to build autonomous underwater vehicles as part of the ocean engineering curriculum.

But when discussing his URI experience, he keeps returning to the life-changing year he spent in Germany.

“It helped me to focus my job search, so I sent my resume to companies overseas,” Eckardt said. “I accepted a position in Germany working for a company that does international shipping, so I’ll be able to combine my language skills with a technical ocean engineering job. My experience with the International Engineering Program helped set me apart. It played a major role in my getting that position.”

Eckardt will begin his engineering career at Beluga Shipping GmbH as a junior project engineer overseeing the loading of cargo onto the company’s ships, which transport what he called “one of a kind, technically challenging loads. Part of my job will entail making sure everything is loaded and fastened appropriately to prevent movement during transport.”

His long-term goals are uncertain. He hopes to stay in Germany for several years, but he hasn’t ruled out returning eventually to the U.S. for the right job.

“My door is wide open to whatever opportunities come up, I am looking forward to seeing what the future holds,” he said.