German study leads Strickland to engineering internship

MADISON – J.D. Strickland had no idea that studying German at James Clemens High School eventually would lead to a prestigious engineering opportunity affiliated with the University of Alabama.

“Ever since I was a child, I’ve been fascinated with movement and transportation technology. From spinning wheels on my stroller to pointing out Porsches and Corvettes at age two to reading Chevrolet truck brochures as bedtime stories, I’ve always loved cars,” Strickland said.

At James Clemens, Strickland decided that automotive engineering “was my passion … the career that I felt most driven towards.”

He first experienced a foreign language at James Clemens. “I had an amazing German teacher, Frau Peggy Boynton, who helped me through my language journey. We attended German Day at UA, and I excelled, becoming a member of National Honors Society for Students of German,” he said.

“At the time, I didn’t think much about what benefits this language exposure could bring to me,” Strickland said.

As a Jets senior, he accepted a full tuition scholarship to UA and intended to study mechanical engineering. Strickland was accepted into an automotive co-op program as a sophomore at UA.

“This plan drastically changed when UA invited me to apply for the Two Steps Ahead program, also known as International German Students Exchange Program,” he said. The highly selective program accepts only 20 applicants annually, based on major and ACT scores.

Dr. Bharat Balasubramanian, UA mechanical engineering professor and 38-year veteran of Mercedes-Benz in Stuttgart, Germany, coordinates the exchange program.

In fall 2002, the program will allow Strickland to attend Hochschule Esslingen or Esslingen University of Applied Sciences in Neckar, Germany.

Strickland will follow up with a six-month internship with Mercedes-Benz, Porsche or another automotive supplier in proximity of Stuttgart. Strickland must complete German classes during summer to accelerate his language learning.

“Though I credit Frau Boynton with exposing me to German as a second language before this opportunity was ever presented to me,” Strickland said.

The exchange program develops bilingual automotive engineers to promote development and engineering of the automotive industry within the Southeastern United States.

“As the only member of this year’s program from Alabama, I feel a great sense of pride not only for the industry, but for my local area as well,” Strickland said. “I’m looking forward to excelling at the academic challenges ahead of me. I can’t wait to see where this opportunity will take me.”

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