URI student takes global path to engineering career

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Tiverton resident to graduate May 22

KINGSTON, R.I. – April 26, 2011 – For most of her life, Tiverton resident Sarah Schlatter knew that she wanted to travel to Europe. She learned Spanish in high school and spoke Portuguese at home, but it wasn’t until she got to the University of Rhode Island that her goal was achieved.

As she prepares to graduate on May 22 with degrees in biomedical engineering and Spanish, Schlatter credits her decision to enroll in URI’s International Engineering Program (IEP) for ensuring her first trip abroad would be a success.

“The IEP program was what attracted me to URI in the first place. My Dad is an electrical engineer, and he tried brainwashing me as a child to become an engineer,” she said with a sly smile. “I tried to ignore him, but in high school I realized that I think like an engineer. I also wanted to study something that would help people, so I picked biomedical engineering.”

Students in the International Engineering Program spend a year abroad studying at a local university and interning at a global company. Schlatter chose to spend her year in San Sebastian, Spain, studying at the University of Navarra and interning at Fatronik Tecnalia, a research company that is developing an emotion detection device.

She described San Sebastian as “a cute little beach city” that somewhat reminded her of home. She was a little nervous about her ability to communicate effectively in Spanish, but she needn’t have worried.

“The people there were surprisingly helpful, and I had a strong background in the language, so everything turned out fine,” she recalled.

Living with students from five other countries also exposed her to a wide range of cultures and recipes, and trips throughout Spain, Portugal, Italy and Paris completed the experience of a lifetime.

During her internship she found herself recruiting volunteers and conducting tests of a device that measures physiological signals and interprets those signals as emotions.

“It was a great experience to be in the business world and see that engineering is similar throughout the world,” said Schlatter, who serves as a Spanish tutor at URI and leads the campus Spanish club. “The business culture is quite different there. The Spanish love their coffee breaks, they’re more relaxed than we are here, and they work a half day on Fridays, but they do work hard.”

One thing she realized from her internship and from a summer job at the Newport Navy Base is that she doesn’t want to spend her career conducting research in a laboratory.

“I’m more extroverted,” she said. “I really want to be in an environment where there are plenty of people to talk to. I like the business side of engineering.”

With that in mind, Schlatter is considering enrolling in an MBA program in the near future. And she already has a job lined up as an application sales engineer at The Lee Company, a Connecticut-based engineering company that makes pressure valves and small mechanical components.

She described the job as “working between an engineer and the field sales staff. I’ll have to be able to talk the language of the engineers and also communicate effectively with the clients on the business side,” Schlatter said. “They’re interested in developing more medical applications for their products, which is why they liked my background.”

While she isn’t ready to look too far into the future to imagine where her career may take her, Schlatter knows that she isn’t finished traveling.