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Collaboration brings new dual degree to Auburn

Bob Karcher talking to German and Engineering students

Auburn University has a new opportunity for students interested in earning degrees in engineering and German.

The new dual degree program, offered jointly by the College of Liberal Arts and Samuel Ginn College of Engineering, will allow students to complete the two degrees in five years; however, many students may complete the program in less time depending on Advanced Placement credit, transfer credit and engineering major.

The curriculum structure has students taking classes for four years in Auburn, which may include two summer semesters. The junior year—spring, summer and fall—will be spent in Germany, with one semester in classes at a partner institution in Aalen, Offenburg, Karlsruhe or Würzburg-Schweinfurt and the rest of the time spent in an extensive internship with a German company.

“This [dual degree program] is going to expose students to all kinds of things that can only help them in the future,” said Traci O’Brien, associate professor of German and chair of the Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures in the College of Liberal Arts. “The semester at a German university will really enhance their language skills, and then the on-the-job training in a German company in Germany is the icing on the cake. Such an experience has the potential to really provide students with a whole lot more to get their career started after graduation.”

As assistant dean for Engineering Student Services, Bob Karcher encourages engineering students to study abroad in Germany or elsewhere around the globe. He said an international experience is essential to students since engineering is such a multicultural field.

“It’s also looked upon favorably by industry,” Karcher added. “It’s a wonderful thing to interview with a company and say, ‘I’ve had experience working with a group of people in this region of the world.’ Most companies definitely look upon that very positively.”

Karcher and O’Brien agreed the level of language proficiency earned in the dual degree program could be vital beyond Auburn.

German companies want highly qualified engineers, “but if you also can speak the language, that opens up all kinds of doors,” said O’Brien.

“The benefit is tremendous, being able to speak the language, to get more fluent in the language working with companies in Germany,” added Karcher. “That experience is invaluable to the company and to the student.”

The dual degree program represents a logical collaboration between the colleges of liberal arts and engineering as the majority of students minoring in German are engineering majors.

Alumnus Mac Patterson was interested in both subjects when he came to the Plains so he opted to major in mechanical engineering and minor in German. But after he studied abroad at the University of Stuttgart, he earned nearly enough credits to major in the language. He took the needed courses and in 2014 graduated with degrees in engineering and German.

“I had to organize everything on my own to make it happen,” he recalled. “I think a dual degree program would make people more willing to do it and maybe have opportunities like the ones I’ve had.”

Patterson is currently on a 27-month contract for Daimler AG in Beijing, China. When the contract is completed, he will return to Daimler headquarters in Stuttgart, Germany, where he has been since 2015.

Daimler is one of the nearly 90 German companies with operations in Alabama. Patterson started his career at Mercedes-Benz U.S. International in Vance, Alabama, the German automaker’s first passenger vehicle manufacturing facility in the United States. Daimler is the parent company of Mercedes-Benz.

The state of Alabama’s strong relationship with Germany can be attributed, in part, to the existence of the Alabama Germany Partnership. Founded in 1998, its mission is to develop and support relationships between organizations and individuals with ties to Alabama and Germany, increase and improve business opportunities and foster cultural exchange. O’Brien serves on the organization’s board of directors.

“The relationship that Germany has with technology is fascinating to our students,” Karcher said. “To study in a country where technology is so important—they’ve made such strong advances—that’s very appealing to engineering students.”

Math may be the universal language between American and German engineers, but operations differ.

“Not only are they studying engineering subjects in the classroom in Germany—they can do that in the U.S.—but they’re learning how Germans do it,” Karcher said. “They’re learning how Germans operate, how they do engineering, and I think that makes a real difference. We don’t all operate the same.

“The way in which we do the problem solving and go about engineering is a bit different from country to country.”

The structure and length of study will vary depending on student preparation and individual pairings of majors. For more information on the dual degree program, contact Karcher at or O’Brien at

Tags: Students International Initiatives World Languages Literatures and Cultures

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