In the historic heart of León are the Plaza de Regla and the León Cathedral, above right. The Palacio del Conde Luna, location of the UW León Center, is a short walk to the southwest.
When in Spain
August 25, 2023
A study abroad program helped a group of UW Tacoma students get the information they needed to build a new website for UW's León Center.
A group of eight computer science students spent part of their summer studying — in a palace. The eight were part of a study abroad program in the city of León in Spain. UW Tacoma Teaching Professor Menaka Abraham helped organize and run the program. “We actually planned to have this study abroad in the summer of 2020, but the pandemic forced us to cancel,” said Abraham.
Abraham and Assistant Teaching Professor Raghavi Sakpal revisited the idea in the fall of 2022. “My initial interest in León was from a colleague who had taken a class there and who worked with the University of Washington’s León Center,” said Abraham. The center opened in 2010 and is primarily used to host study abroad programs across a range of disciplines. The program directors collaborated with Dr. Adriana Suárez Corona from University of León (ULe) to facilitate the site visits.
The UW center operates out of the Palacio del Conde Luna, a fourteenth century gothic palace. UW has use of a three-story Renaissance tower that was added to the palace in the sixteenth century. “We were blown away the first time we saw it,” said Abraham. “The palace and the town itself are very old so you get the sense that you’re walking through history.”
Abraham and Sakpal wanted to provide their students with hands-on experience. “We decided to have students design a new website and a mobile app for the León Center,” she said. “The goal was to create something that reflected the city and the center, and the best way to know a place is by visiting it.”
Abraham and her students left for Spain in mid-June. “We were there for 10 days, which isn’t a lot of time,” she said. The group kept busy. They went to class, but they also took tours of the city, attended community events and engaged in conversation with locals. “Students at the University of León were curious about our work, and they joined us for some of our classes,” said Abraham.
ULe students provided feedback on an especially important topic. “They helped us understand how to make the website and the app more Spanish-centered rather than just English-centered,” said Abraham.
When it came to housing, students stayed with local families as part of a homestay. “These families were amazing,” said Abraham. “They picked us up when we arrived. They also provided meals and transportation.”
Abraham says students got a chance to get to know their homestay families and build lasting relationships. “I really wanted students to get out of their comfort zone and immerse themselves in the local culture,” she said.
Study Abroad & SET
Students who are looking for a longer-term SET program might consider the Bielefeld Exchange program in which students take engineering courses (in English) at Hochschule Bielefeld-University of Applied Sciences and Arts (HSBI) in Germany.
Near the end of the 10 days, the students presented preliminary website mockups to the UW faculty and host families. The students took that feedback with them back to UW Tacoma where they spent the summer working on the project. They presented the final draft of the website to Anthony Geist, executive director, UW León Center, in the last week of summer quarter. The revamped website is set to launch in September. Work on the app will take longer and no timetable has been set. Still, Geist is grateful to Abraham and her students. “By completely redesigning the León Center webpage and creating a mobile app, students at UW Tacoma are making those resources more visible and accessible,” said Geist.
The León Center benefited from the study abroad, but Geist hopes students also got something from the experience. “We hope the UW Tacoma students who studied with us honed their skills but, just as important, we hope they enjoyed the cordiality of the city and its people,” said Geist.
The León program was something new for the School of Engineering & Technology (SET). “This is SET’s first faculty-led study abroad program,” said study abroad Associate Director Courtney Kroll. “It is really challenging for STEM majors to study abroad because of the very specific major and minor requirements they have to take, as well as the order they have to take them in,” she said. “This program made study abroad much more accessible to our SET students because the course was one they were required to take and because students were only abroad for a short period of time.”
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