Engineering senior industrious in her pursuit of education abroad


UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – Jamie Sweeney always knew she wanted to be an engineer. She loved math and science.  

However, the senior from West Chester, Pennsylvania, said she originally wasn’t considering Penn State to help her achieve this goal.

“Didn’t want to go to Penn State right away,” she began. “But I am so happy I did. Looking back I would never go anywhere else.”

In her time here, Sweeney has given back to the school in many ways. She is in the Schreyer Honors College, a member of a business fraternity and serves as the president of the Penn State chapter of the Institute of Industrial Engineers. She has also found ways to combine an itch to travel and see different parts of the world with her academic pursuits.

She said the unique environment at Penn State allowed her to forge her own community.

“It has that small community and homey feel, but it also has all the resources and opportunities of this big university,” she said. “I’m really happy I came here.”

Although she loves her school, Sweeney started thinking about study abroad opportunities soon after arriving at Penn State.

“Studying abroad is something in my family that’s just kind of expected,” she said. “My parents encourage exploring and adventuring, which I really appreciate.”

After her freshman year, Sweeney realized being an engineer meant she might not get a chance to travel abroad. She started looking into study abroad opportunities that would suit her academic career and found one in China – three weeks traveling throughout the country.

The summer after her freshman year, she set off with a professor and 30 other first-year students to explore the sites in China.

“It was a packed itinerary,” Sweeney said. “We went to the rural countryside and the big cities, industrial centers to visit plants, the Great Wall, the longest bay bridge. It was really an awesome opportunity.”

Sweeney liked that it was different than a “traditional study abroad experience.” It was a culture shock for her.

“It amazed me how friendly the people were and I was so intrigued by their customs and traditions,” she said. “I loved learning about things like how they toast, how they greet people and just the way they live.”

The travel bug caught hard and fast. While in China, Sweeney met another student who planned to study abroad in Cape Town, South Africa, the following spring.

“I became obsessed with the idea,” she said. “My parents said, ‘No, you’re not going to South Africa.’ Then of course I wanted to go even more.”

Undeterred, Sweeney did her research, won her parents over and began working with her industrial engineering professors to petition for certain courses ensuring her timely graduation.

Sweeney’s persistence paid off in the spring of her junior year. She spent six months studying at the University of Cape Town in South Africa.

“I went not knowing anyone,” she said. “But Cape Town is one of the most beautiful places. It totally pushed me outside of my comfort zone. I met a lot of really interesting people.”

Sweeney said the University of Cape Town is one of the best universities in all of Africa, and it was a great reminder of the value of education.

“At Penn State you can kind of get stuck in this bubble,” she said. “But (Cape Town’s) students are so grateful to get to go to school that every person in every class is so engaged. Everyone’s asking questions and participating. It’s not something to take for granted.”

One of the best parts of studying abroad, Sweeney said, is learning how to communicate with people from all different backgrounds.

“They’re learning the same things in Cape Town that I’m learning here,” she said. “So we can use that together to work on problems throughout the world.”

Sweeney will graduate this spring, but she isn’t done traveling. After graduation she will trade in her cap and gown for a backpack and a passport to jet off to Peru.

“I'm backpacking through the country for three weeks,” she said. “But at the end I’m going on a five-day trek through the Salkantay mountains to get to Machu Picchu."

When she returns, she will be on the road again as she embarks on the first of four rotations in an Operation Leadership Development Program with Siemens.

“I will be doing four different types of jobs within industrial engineering for six months each at different locations,” she said. “My first location will be at a plant just outside Chicago that assembles and tests mechanical gear drives.”

Sweeney will spend her final six-month rotation at Siemen's headquarters in Munich, Germany.

At the end of the program, she will be able to choose what kind of position suits her best.

“I couldn’t really commit to one thing yet,” she said. “This is a good compromise. I can find something I really like to do.”


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Cate Hansberry

Pamela Krewson Wertz

“Studying abroad is something in my family that’s just kind of expected. My parents encourage exploring and adventuring, which I really appreciate.”


Home of the first established industrial engineering program in the world, the Harold and Inge Marcus Department of Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering (IME) at Penn State has made a name for itself in the engineering industry through its storied tradition of unparalleled excellence and innovation in research, education, and outreach.

We are Innovators. We are Makers. We are Excellence in Engineering. We are Penn State IME.

The Harold and Inge Marcus Department of
Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering

310 Leonhard Building

The Pennsylvania State University

University Park, PA 16802-4400

Phone: 814-865-7601

FAX: 814-863-4745