Courtesy photo
CU-Boulder grad students worked with students from Switzerland at the POLE project kickoff in September.

A t 4 a.m. MST on Wednesday, four exhausted University of Colorado students joined more than 30 European students to present proposals to the Swiss transportation company A-Welle, via video chat.

The CU students have been collaborating with Swiss and German students for nearly four months as part of the Project-Oriented Learning Environment (POLE) program, led by the University of Applied Sciences and Arts Northwestern Switzerland.

In September, the students traveled to Switzerland for a week where they were split into teams and charged with improving A-Welle’s ticketing system.

The CU participants said after a semester of communicating with their team members through group video chats, they were used to working around the eight-hour time difference by Wednesday’s presentation.

“It was challenging coordinating our weekly meetings with the time difference,” said CU graduate student Abigale Stangl. Stangl, an information, communication and technology for development major, was paired with Swiss students and one German student, for who English was a second language, from varying majors.

“Between … the language barriers and the fact that we were all from different programs, I really learned a lot about working within the international market,” Stangl said. “We were having to translate our vocabulary through the different areas of study and also make sure we were clear about what we were saying, clearing up misunderstood English phrases occasionally.”

Christoph Holliger, professor of physics at the Swiss university, started the POLE project 13 years ago and said this year was the first to integrate CU students.

Alexander Repenning, a computer science professor at CU, was a student of Holliger’s about 30 years ago and led the American students throughout the project.

“Undergrads get this type of collaboration experience in their senior capstones, but you don’t really get this kind of exposure as a grad student,” Repenning said. “The experience provided here really differs for each student depending on their focus, but they’re all learning lessons that took me years of working in the real world to get.”

Sadie Zukowski, a computer science grad student at CU, said she’s not planning on going into an international market after graduation, but she learned a lot about working with people from varying backgrounds.

“I think that lesson is valuable in any work environment,” Zukowski said.

CU graduate students Rosalind O’Brien and Jeeeun Kim also participated in the project. Kim paid for a second trip to Switzerland last week to help her team finalize their project and present to A-Welle.

The students said the presentations went well and they expect the company to implement some of the suggestions from the teams, including a new, user-friendly interface for their ticket vending machines.

Holliger and Repenning said the collaboration was beneficial for students from all three countries and they hope to continue bringing CU students into the project.

Follow Whitney Bryen on Twitter: @SoonerReporter.

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