ECE in Scandinavia

“May session in Scandinavia under CSE’s Global Seminar program has been a consistently successful venture”

Acquiring global exposure and learning to interact, engage, and conduct business in a country and culture different from one’s own are skills that employers are increasingly seeking in new employees. At the academic level, studies have shown a positive correlation between students studying abroad and retention rates, on-time graduation rates, grade point averages, and overall employability. For students at the University of Minnesota, academic experiences abroad also help them align themselves with learning and development outcomes that the institution has carefully designed for students.

Among the several types of study abroad programs offered by the University is CSE Global Seminars. These seminars are specifically tailored for CSE students: the topics line up with major curricula, and the short duration of these seminars means most students can engage in the opportunity without impacting their major course sequence. Global seminars are almost always faculty-led and take place over three weeks during the winter break or during the May session. Students explore technical topics that are culturally situated within specific global communities, and earn three technical credits to be used towards their major requirements. The absence of prerequisites and language requirements make these courses especially attractive, and students can take advantage of financial aid and scholarships to pay for all or some of the seminar fees.


One of the seminar programs that has consistently attracted students is “Energy Production Methods in Scandinavia.” Led by award-winning ECE faculty, Prof. Paul Imbertson, the course explores energy production methods, and examines how cultural and social belief systems can influence energy policies. Coordinating with Pål Grandal at the University of Agder in Norway, and program host for Iceland and Denmark, Michelle Cumming Løkkegaard, he has successfully led several groups of students to Iceland, Denmark, and Norway, The course focuses on the link between energy production and usage patterns and the location, and how tensions among energy production, usage, and environmental concerns drive new plans. The session typically includes site visits to research universities, wind turbine manufacturers, geothermal power plants, wind farms, hydro facilities, and solar component manufacturers.


For the students in the 2018 session, the program commenced in Iceland, which included a tour of the Svartsengi geothermal power plant where students had the opportunity to tour the facility and learn about the relative merits of geothermal power. The students also spent some time understanding the geographical context that has influenced power generation, distribution, and consumption in Iceland, and this included a visit to the country’s largest active volcano, Hekla, and the Hjálparfoss and Gullfoss waterfalls.


In the second leg of the seminar, students traveled to Denmark. The stop in Denmark included lectures on conservation and sustainability at the University of Copenhagen, and a deep dive into biomass power generation at the Avenøre power plant. The visit to the power plant gave participants the opportunity to get a closer understanding of power generation, distribution, and everything else that happens before consumers have access to power. At the University of Southern Denmark, our students attended a lecture on the workings of batteries, and advances in battery technology, and got a tour of a research lab at the university. Next, the group visited Danish wind turbine plant, Vestas Wind Systems in Ringkøbing, where students learnt about the company’s products and production methods through a tour of the factory floor. The students also stopped to visit a sustainable energy folk high school that housed a large collection of solar panels, wind turbines, and other artifacts that go into the production and storage of sustainable power. The final day in Denmark saw the students visiting a turbine testing center where they saw some of the world’s largest turbines.


From Denmark, the trip itinerary led the group to Norway, where they started off with a lecture and tour at Elkem, one of the world’s leading suppliers of silicon-based products critical to several renewable energy and sustainability solutions. Here, students had the opportunity to watch the process of silicon extraction from quartz. The group’s time in Norway included a visit to a  privately owned and operated hydropower station, followed by a visit to museums in Oslo to explore engineering, innovation, and energy production, within the context of the local culture. The last stop, to complete the May 2018 session, was Statkraft, a leader in hydropower and renewable energy. The visit included lectures by various company experts on topics ranging from strategies to overcome challenges in the generation of wind and hydropower, to ambitious projects currently underway, to the workings of the energy market, and the impact of subsidies and incentives on renewables. The lectures were complemented by a visit to a Statkraft hydropower plant where our students had the opportunity to view the insides of the plant and its operation at close hand.

Each year, participants in the “Energy Production Methods in Scandinavia” seminar return informed, enthused, and glad to have taken advantage of the opportunity to study abroad For some of our students, it is their first foray to a different country, but for all of them, the experience is enlightening, giving them the opportunity to experience and view how a business operates within its cultural, social, and economic situation. ECE encourages our students to participate in a learning abroad program, be it semester-long or a seminar, for the wealth of learning and experience it can bring to them.

If you are interested in opportunities to study abroad, check CSE’s Learn Abroad page