Santa Clara University

Virtual Engineers

In a modern-day twist on studying abroad, 11 university engineering students in El Salvador joined 31 SCU students via the Internet and satellite television to take a class in Bannan Engineering during the winter quarter.

The Salvadorans were at their home campus at the Universidad Centroamericano (UCA) in San Salvador, El Salvador, a Jesuit school with close ties to Santa Clara University. But on Tuesday and Thursday mornings at 11:50 a.m. California time, they were connected to lectures and discussions in Professor Mark Ardema’s Introduction to Aerospace Engineering class in Bannan Engineering 325.


The online class grew out of a suggestion made to Jeff Ota, an SCU professor, when he visited UCA in August 2004. One of the students Ota met told him they needed an aeronautics class in El Salvador, so Ota lined up support within SCU’s School of Engineering when he returned to the United States. Ota credited UCA Professor Jorge Gonzalez-Cruz in particular for his assistance.

With the aid of equipment from Cisco Systems and Tandberg, the class began during the winter quarter. SCU’s School of Engineering contributed $1,250 for textbooks for the UCA students, and Ardema posted his lecture notes online for students to review.

Ardema’s class looked normal, except for floor pads that he walked on in the front of the room. The pads cued a camera in the back of the room to follow him as he taught. On the side of the classroom stood a five-foot-high television screen, which showed his image as he lectured and was beamed to El Salvador.

Part of the screen showed students taking notes in El Salvador.

Students in Mark Ardema class
Students in Professor Mark Ardema’s Introduction to Aerospace Engineering class were joined by 11 El Salvador students via the Internet and a satellite television hookup.

“Students in both countries said they really liked the class,” Ardema said. “Salvadoran students liked learning about a subject that isn’t taught at their university and also getting exposure to how classes are taught at American universities,” he said.

The fact that the class was taught in English didn’t stop the Salvadoran students from learning along with their Santa Clara cohorts. “Equations are universal,” said Willian Ernesto Marroquin, a UCA vice provost who visited SCU in March as part of the ongoing collaboration efforts between the two engineering schools. “There is another language—the math language.”

Marroquin came to SCU along with another UCA colleague, Ismael Sanchez. Their visit followed a joint engineering workshop held at UCA in August 2004 that was attended by nine faculty and students from SCU.

The UCA workshop served as an impetus for six senior engineering design projects involving 15 SCU engineering students. Many of the projects are designed to help El Salvador’s infrastructure, and ranged from a solar-powered water pumping system to investigating the use of bamboo reinforcing rods in concrete.

Ardema, who teaches the aeronautics course every two years, said he may teach part of the next class from El Salvador.

—Larry Sokoloff is a freelance writer and attorney in Sunnyvale.
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