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Meet Austin, an aerospace engineering senior, who chose to study abroad during spring break with the Burnett Honors College. This engineering-based trip counts for a technical elective and gives you access the industry leaders at aerospace conglomerate, Embraer.

Why He Chose to Study Abroad

“I’m Austin Searles, an aerospace engineering senior, I’m graduating this May. I transferred here from FSCJ, and I’ve been here now for about three years. I had never considered doing study abroad before. I just thought…I’m very focused on graduation, I’m very career oriented, I want to get my degree as fast as possible and get out of here. That’s what really attracted me to this program – it was a study abroad, but not for an entire semester or a prohibitive amount of time. It was the perfect opportunity to get engineering experience, a technical elective, and to have fun in a foreign country. I don’t think there are a lot of study abroad programs that offer that.

We had a class staring in January that involved learning contemporary manufacturing methods and several classes leading up to the trip that usually met weekly. In addition to the classes, we had several trips to manufacturing facilities here in Florida, including a couple of different trips to Embraer’s Melbourne facility. We also went to the Piper facility in Vero Beach, and to the regional airport to meet with a local pilot where we toured his plane. We did this in preparation for our big trip to Brazil where we were to tour several Embraer facilities.

“Being in aerospace, you don’t get a lot of chances to really touch engineering and see what happens behind the scenes – the real application of being an aerospace student. This trip and the class afforded me the opportunity to actually see what goes on, from design aspects to manufacturing.”   -Austin Searles

The Journey Through São Paulo

The trip was over spring break, so it was about 10 days long. We arrived in São Paulo, and we got to visit several cultural tourist attractions. From there we went to little city called Botucatu – Embraer has a facility there. We got to see their pre-assembly – they have manufacturing lines for several of their aircraft there. After that, we went to Campinas to meet with a professor of aeronautics, where he gave a lecture about aeroacoustics. Next, we went to São José dos Campos, which is where Embraer has its main facility and headquarters – that’s where they have final assembly for most of their aircraft. They have their commercial line and executive line, and we got to see the process from start to finish – from the sheet metal being pressed, all the way up to the final assembly of the aircraft. That was actually my favorite part of the trip – seeing their commercial line.

On the weekend, there weren’t any manufacturing facilities open, so we went to Camburi Beach, which is this little beach town on the coast of São Paulo. It was a really cool cultural experience – I lived in Brazil for 2 years, so it was interesting to see it from a different perspective

Being in aerospace, you don’t get a lot of chances to really touch engineering and see what happens behind the scenes – the real application of being an aerospace student. This trip and the class afforded me the opportunity to actually see what goes on, from design aspects to manufacturing. While we were at the facility in São José dos Campos we also got to see a master’s program they have called PEE [in partnership with the Instituto Tecnológico de Aeronáutica], where they mimic the design process at Embraer. It begins with a challenge to research and develop a completely new design for an aircraft. They have to go through aerodynamic definition, manufacturability, and all other aspects that go into the design, and present their aircraft as their final. It was really cool to see what happens in the real industry – something that I personally had never experienced before. We also got to see the National Institute for Space Research and tour their facilities – at the time they were collaborating with a few other nation-states on satellites. We saw a lot in the short amount of time!

Austin Searles
Austin Searles

Making Connections

It was also really cool to be with Dr. Ali Gordon for the full 10 days. You’re usually so limited in interactions with professors, but to be able to constantly have Dr. Gordon’s ear to bounce around ideas and talk about the industry and make a real friendship out of it was a really unique experience. Dr. Gordon’s awesome.

After the trip, Dr. Gordon selected a few of us to present a project to a panel of engineers at the Melbourne location. For my project, I wanted to mimic what they did in the PEE program. I created a design for an electric air taxi, I created the aerodynamic definition on solidworks, and I basically went through the steps of research and design and investigated existing technology. I created a rough concept sketch and a manufacturing flow based on what I learned from the facility visits. I got to present that to the managers at the facility in Melbourne, so that was pretty cool.

I got a lot of connections at Embraer and Piper – all of these real-world industry connections that we wouldn’t normally get, as students. Unless you do an internship or research, you don’t get a lot of real-world experience in the classroom. During the trip, there was a lot of networking going on, which I appreciated, especially going into graduation.

Most of the classes in aerospace engineering are so specific, it’s hard to get the full scope of ‘what is aerospace engineering?’ Visiting these facilities really opened my eyes to the expanse of aerospace – it is a MASSIVE operation. Even the smaller companies, like Piper, the amount of engineers and manpower that goes into a small aircraft are just astounding to me. There’s just so much from all the courses that we’ve learned that we’re drawing upon and combining into teams of hundreds of engineers to build a single product. It was really cool to see engineering in practice, and this was actually my favorite class. To be able to touch engineering and see it in industry practice was great, because in class we get so far down into the nitty gritty of engineering that we lose sight of what we’re going for and what we’re passionate about, and for me, that’s aerospace.”