Life Changing Culture Shock To Cultural Connection

Brian Steward calls his personal international experiences “incredibly life-changing. He wants his students to have the same life-changing experiences.

Steward, an agricultural and biosystems engineering associate professor, traveled abroad for the first time at the age of 25. He went to China and says he was overwhelmed by culture shock.

Later, he and his wife Stacia lived in China for a year while teaching English. “These first international experiences, while being very challenging personally, helped me realize how little I know about the world, and how blessed I am to live in this country,” he says.

Now Steward provides leadership to international programs in his department. “I like to help students have these types of experiences and gain similar perspectives,” Steward says.

Outside of the classroom, Steward’s research focuses on information technologies needed for precision agriculture. His research, interest in international travel and desire to show students the world all got a boost when he was awarded a Fulbright Scholar grant to spend the 2009-2010 academic year at the Federal University of Viçosa in Brazil.

“In Brazil, I was learning a new modeling language for virtual prototyping, plus teaching a course in which the students used this language to model a variety of systems in agriculture and biosystems,” Steward says. “Virtual prototyping uses more computer models in the design process, pushing back the need to build a physical prototype.”

Steward also organized and led a two-week study abroad trip for 10 students from Iowa State and eight from the University of Kentucky. The study tour focused on the development, adoption and use of engineering technology in agricultural and bioenergy production in Brazil.

It included a visit to the Federal University of Viçosa, one of the leading agricultural universities in Brazil, which was founded in 1921 by Iowa State alum Peter Henry Rolfs.

In 2002, Steward visited a former classmate who was a professor at the Brazilian university. That led to the development of a student exchange program between Iowa State and the Federal University of Viçosa, several other joint student and research projects and Steward’s Fulbright assignment.

Steward says there are many global challenges for which he hopes Iowa State students can help find solutions. “Feeding a growing population, providing sustainable energy to a world of growing affluence, managing nutrients and wastes in an environmentally responsible manner—if our students don’t have an understanding of the world, they will be ill-equipped to deal with these issues,” he says.

“Engineering is not done in just one location anymore, but by teams of people across the globe communicating daily with one another,” Steward says. “Our students need to understand the globally connected nature of our world, and how to interact effectively with people from different cultures and countries.”