Alumnus and donor Ralph Edwards has a passion for the impact of study abroad
Ralph Edwards was an undergraduate student in industrial engineering in 1959 when Dr. Clifton A. Anderson, the department head, called him into his office. It was a meeting Edwards would never forget.
Anderson, who did consulting work with Italian typewriter manufacturer Olivetti, had an opportunity to send an engineering student to the company’s headquarters in the town of Ivrea as a summer intern. Edwards said yes, but it was a daunting assignment.
“I didn’t know where Italy was and I certainly didn’t have a passport,” Edwards said.
He didn’t have a camera, either. But Anderson loaned him his Leica camera and gave him simple instructions: write a story for the student newspaper when you return. And have fun.
With that invitation, Anderson gave the young Salisbury, NC, native a love of travel (and of photography) that would serve him well during a career in international real estate and become a personal passion.
“That experience changed me,” said Edwards, who settled in Atlanta, Ga., with his wife, Ree.
The Ralph and Ree Edwards Study Abroad Scholarship the couple established within the College and recently furthered with a significant gift helps engineering undergraduate students take the kind of impactful spring or summer study abroad trip that Ralph Edwards took.
All they ask of the scholarship recipients is that they try to attend an annual dinner in the fall with the couple in Raleigh to share their experiences and that they have fun.
And take pictures.
Olivetti was the world’s leading manufacturer of typewriters at the time. Edwards spent his six weeks with the company’s executives and engineers seeing every aspect of the operation. In between, he ate a lot of fine pasta and spent his off time in Paris, Rome and the Riviera.
Today, Edwards is chairman and CEO of EBS Property Investments, a private real estate company that invests in and provides asset management services for U.S. office, retail and industrial properties. Over the years, he has built a number of relationships with European investors. Edwards says that traveling internationally gave him the confidence to do that kind of work, and it all started with that first trip to Italy.
For Charles Blum, a junior in industrial and systems engineering, a study abroad trip to London offered a more dynamic educational experience that went beyond the normal coursework completed at a university. He studied business writing and economic analysis from a European perspective during nearly two months overseas in summer 2018. From facility analysis at the BMW Mini Plant and Coca-Cola European Partners facility, to participating in focus groups at IBM, to Blum, “this experience made the world my classroom.”
That kind of experience, and the kind of confidence that it builds, is what the Edwardses want for the engineering students who take advantage of their scholarship. Six years of the program has produced 60 seasoned travelers, each with their own life-changing stories to share.
“If we could give an experience to someone reminiscent of mine and have it have a similar impact, what a great legacy that would be,” Ralph Edwards said.
A New Confidence
Savannah Abel had traveled overseas with her family growing up. But her study abroad trip to Segovia, Spain, the summer before her senior year was different.
The industrial engineering major knew none of the other 25 students on the trip. After a long flight and then a bus ride, hers was the first name called by the NC State faculty member leading the trip. An older Spanish gentleman who didn’t speak English grabbed her bags and headed to the apartment he shared with his wife. It would be her home for the next four weeks.
The 2018 graduate, who now works for Ernst & Young in Charlotte, NC, figured things out after a few days and came out stronger because of the trip.
“After going through that, I feel comfortable that I can do almost anything,” she said.
As a Benjamin Franklin Scholar, Rebeca Teran is pursuing a double major in computer science and French language and literature. She spent a spring semester on a study abroad trip in Lille, France. Speaking and hearing French spoken on the streets and seeing the country’s most historic sites was different than learning from a textbook.
“History came alive. That’s the most important thing for me about study abroad,” Teran said. “I was experiencing history instead of simply reading it.”
The College’s annual study abroad trip to Zhejiang University in Hangzhou, China, was a kind of homecoming for Sandy Lin and Anna Davis. Students can take classes in engineering, international relations and Mandarin during their stay and have a chance to work on a design project for heavy equipment manufacturer Caterpillar at one of the company’s Chinese facilities.
Lin’s family is from China, and she had not been to the country in 10 years. She described the Hangzhou trip as “a good cultural identity trip for me.” She was able to brush up on her Mandarin, learn about how China uses its resources in a course titled “Geographies of Energy” and spend time exploring.
Davis is an aerospace engineering major who was adopted from China at eight months old. Her experience was similar to those described by other beneficiaries of the Edwards Scholarship. The students returned with a finer appreciation of travel, plenty of photos of their adventures and a new confidence.
“I learned that I’m a lot more adaptable than I thought I was previously,” she said.