A group of students spent their 2011 spring break in Letterfrack, Ireland, learning about design and project management at the Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology (GMIT) as part of the study abroad course Culture, Natural Resources, and Design in Ireland. The group, led by forest products marketing professors Robert Bush and Tom Hammett, included students from the wood science department as well as four different colleges across campus. They were joined by three students and an instructor from the Southern Virginia Higher Education Center in South Boston, Va., building on a newly established partnership between the three educational institutions.

GMIT Shop-Lego Bricks
GMIT students present their project.

GMIT-Letterfrack is home to the leading furniture and woodworking design program in Ireland and one of the top programs in Europe. It arranges 6-month on-the-job placements for its third-year students, and many of its graduates are employed by companies throughout Europe and north America.

The course introduced the Virginia Tech students to the focus areas of culture, natural resources, and design, and assigned them to work with GMIT students on team projects to take a product from design to market. Before the trip, in-class videoconferences, which included short lectures and discussions led by GMIT faculty, gave the students a chance to collaborate with their Irish teammates.

The Virginia contingent practices the ancient Irish sport of hurling. They held their own in a later match with GMIT students and faculty members.

During the trip, students stayed at the Letterfrack campus, attending classes, working with their project teams, and experiencing the local culture, including guided tours focused on history and architecture, an interpretive hike in Connemara National Park, an evening of Irish song and dance, and a hurling match with GMIT students and faculty members. Before returning, the American students presented a seminar on strategies for making their teams’ new products a reality.

“The course was a great learning experience for the students, and for me,” Bush said. “The students were enthusiastic and eager to learn, and our hosts were very accommodating. I look forward to leading the course again and to a growing relationship with the students and members of the faculty of GMIT-Letterfrack.”

The ongoing collaboration with GMIT will continue in 2012. The study abroad course will be offered again in the spring semester, and two GMIT students will come to Blacksburg to complete their on-the-job placements. The college hopes to host a group of GMIT study abroad students in the near future.