They traveled 4,657 miles to access high-technology educational resources that residents of the Lakelands have right at their fingertips. For the second time in five years, a school in Bergamo, Italy, has sent a group of young people majoring in engineering to study abroad — at Piedmont Technical College (PTC).
Eleven students and two chaperones from Azienda Bergamasca Formazione (ABF) spent three weeks this summer receiving instructor-led training in robotics, electrical engineering, mechatronics, and other disciplines at the college’s Center for Advanced Manufacturing in Laurens and its O’Dell Upstate Center for Manufacturing Excellence in Greenwood. The group also took numerous tours of area manufacturing operations, including Lonza, West Fraser, and Alupress.
“In addition to the technical training sessions and tours, these young men also enjoyed some uniquely American experiences, including an outing to see a Greenville Drive game,” said Rusty Denning, PTC associate vice president for economic development and strategic partnerships. “They don’t have baseball in Italy, so that was different and fun for them.”
That such a study-abroad initiative could become reality is testament to the tremendous value of PTC’s relationships with business and industry partners in the region, many with ties to Italy. After the CAM in Laurens was completed, word of mouth spread far and wide. Soon, officials from ABF reached out to PTC to arrange the first group visit in 2018.
Charles Dixon, director of the PTC Center for Advanced Manufacturing in Laurens, said he enjoyed working with the students.
“The language thing really wasn’t much of a barrier,” he said. “A few of the students had seen some of this technology before and even used it. They all caught on pretty well. They have been studying in technical education for a while now, but they are just starting with mechatronics. I would like to see how that progresses.”
While visiting South Carolina, the group stayed in housing provided on the Presbyterian College campus in Clinton. They also visited Columbia, Charleston, and Folly Beach on weekend excursions. They expressed a particular fondness for American movies.
One of the group’s chaperones, Manuela Mosca, said South Carolina left a favorable impression as one of the friendliest places around. “Everywhere we went, people met us with big smiles on their faces,” she said. “We have really enjoyed it.”
The exchange of knowledge and ideas was a two-way street, according to Dixon.
“I even picked up a little of the Italian language,” he quipped, “just enough to get into a little trouble.”
Electronic Engineering Technology instructor Jason White found the cohort refreshingly mature and polite. “The students were attentive, and they were engaged despite the fact that they were learning with a second language,” he said. “I just lectured as I normally would. They understood me. The only challenge was when they needed to ask me a question. But they worked together as a team to find the right words.”
“Piedmont Technical College leaders are honored to have this opportunity to provide this study-abroad experience and growth opportunity for ABF students,” Denning said. “We are confident these young people will remember it for the rest of their lives.”
Is it possible PTC might send a cohort to Italy in a true educational exchange? Denning said it’s an appealing idea that is certainly worth exploring in the future.
For now, PTC is still offering No-Cost Tuition for the fall semester. No plane ticket required. For more information, visit www.ptc.edu/free.