Honor Benefits – Ben McKeig Travel Fund – From Promise to Fulfillment

The students participating in youThe University Honors Program enjoys benefits such as our interdisciplinary focus, strong community, and focus on personal, professional, and intellectual development (see this link: http://tx.ag/HonorsBenefits).

Another advantage offered to students in good standing of the university honors program is the Honors Travel Fund, which provides up to 10 scholarships of $500 each to support activities aligned with the University Honors Program’s mission to inspire high-achieving undergraduate students to develop the personal, professional, and intellectual skills they will have need to solve the multifaceted problems of tomorrow.

In this article, Ben McKeig ’23, an ocean engineering junior from Spring, TX, describes a trip funded in part by an honorary travel grant.

– by Ben McKeig ’23

A smiling man with long hair smiles in front of the roofs of tiled buildings
Ben McKeig ’23 atop the unfinished nave of Siena Cathedral in Siena, Italy

This summer I participated in a study abroad program through the Department of Ocean Engineering at Texas A&M University in Italy. As part of this program, I took a course on offshore structural design and learned about Italian culture.

While mostly stationed in Ravenna, we took several excursions to see several different cities in Italy such as Rome, Pompeii, Venice, Florence, Siena and Pisa. Being able to experience these wonderful cities and things like the Rialto Bridge, the Duomo, the Colosseum, and the Leaning Tower of Pisa was a culturally expansive experience that changed my life. Before going to Italy, my vision of the world was rather narrow. Being as immersed as I am, for as long as I have been, really exposed me to how lifestyles can differ in other countries.

During my time in Rome, the Roman way of life became second nature to me. They walked everywhere, ate long full lunches and dinners, and generally lived very relaxed lives. I think part of the reason they have such a relaxed lifestyle is that they live their daily lives between the ancient Roman Empire and the modern Italy of today. If I walked past both the Colosseum and a modern Irish pub every day, it would help me put my issues into perspective and see how they fit into a bigger picture of history and my life, and I now try to live my life as I have seen how the Romans do it.

This course was extremely beneficial as I was able to learn about the design and implementation of various offshore structures and all that goes on there while seeing what it is like on the other side of the world. Seeing the engineering I learned at College Station applied all over Italy in projects like the MOSE project in Venice and the oil rigs off Ravenna really helped broaden my perspective and made me shown how ocean engineering is used and applied.

internationally. For example, I learned how codes and regulations for the construction and maintenance of offshore structures differ from country to country, even in international waters. Although the codes use the same principles and equations, different countries or groups of countries have different methods and required safety margins; but you can also see how the codes of different countries influence each other as they change over the years.

The gondolas in Venice were particularly amazing and so innovative. They are designed so that each gondola goes straight with both off-center propulsion and an off-center center of weight due to the rider standing on one side and propelling on the other side. Since every gondolier is a different shape and size, each gondola should be designed and built specifically for a gondolier. They do this by adjusting the center of gravity to account for each gondolier’s weight and position on the gondola, and changing the curvature on one side so that, without propulsion, it will drift to the left, but with a continuous propulsion, it will go perfectly straight. It’s an ingenious design and inspires me because I want to design boats and ships after I graduate. It really helped me show that less conventional design can be better when it’s truly designed for its purpose and for the people using it.

This life-changing experience was an incredible gift, and because I had such a great and fulfilling experience, I would love to move abroad at some point, work, and broaden my view of the world.

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