CEE Students Use Music to Build Teams and World Culture Understanding

Written by: Professor Shen-En Chen

For two semesters, the Sophomore Design class has been using choir singing, with parallel rhythm, melody and different roles, to build teams and understand engineering from a different perspective.  The students learn and perform a variety of songs in non-English languages in a choir format to understand and appreciate a variety of cultures. They perform in a mini concert at EPIC as a culmination project.  To help the students learn to sing together, Professor Ginger Wyrick, director of The Charlotteans, was requested to come in to teach the students. Being a master director, Professor Wyrick was able to help the students sing in 4-parts in a single lecture by teaching them to sing a Dutch song “Sarasponda”.

The Spring 2023 mini concert was held on March 27 and the students presented separately three songs, “99 Luftballons” from Nena, “Erev Shoshanim” by Yosef Hadar and, “Ikanaide” by Koji Tamaki.  They then jointly sang, “Sarasponda”.  During the Spring semester, there were fifty-six students in the Sophomore Design class and the students were split into three competing teams. Many students were able to demonstrate their personal musical talents by bringing their own instruments!

During the concert, the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering also purchased international snacks to share with our audiences. 

The Fall 2023 concert was more grand in scope – two other classes (Dr. Yongling Gorke’s CHNS 1512 “Prominent Chinese Americans” and Professor Wyrick’s MUPF 1123 “Women’s Chorus – The Charlotteans”) joined the Sophomore Design class in the concert.  The results were a joint performance called, “Music from the World: a multi-disciplinary student concert” by close to one hundred students representing three colleges: College of Engineering, College of Humanities, Earth and Social Sciences, and the College of Arts+Architecture.

The fall semester Sophomore design class has 32 students performing as a single team.  To help the students navigate the two languages used in the songs properly, Professor Bianca Potrykus, a German professor, and Ms. Fumika Kameyama, an exchange student from Japan, came to our classes to help with the pronunciation and language appreciation.

The November 14 concert opened with two songs performed by the Sophomore design team, “Die Gedanken sind frei,” a German song and, “Aiwa Kazu” a Japanese song.  Then Professor Gorke’s students followed with three Chinese songs (in different regional dialects): “Rose, Rose I love you” in Mandarin, “Strive to Win” in Hokkien and, “Happy Every Year” in Cantonese. Next, the Charlotteans sang three songs:“Hotaru Koi” in Japanese, “Bashana Haba’ah” in Hebrew, and an Irish Ballad, “Bonny Wood Green” sung in English.  Finally, all three teams joined together to perform, “Sarasponda” together.

The fall concert event was part of UNC Charlotte’s celebration of International Education Week, an annual event organized by the Office of International Programs to celebrate and nurture internationalization on the Charlotte campus. International Education Week is also celebrated nationwide in the third week of November each year. The three groups of students showed how creating music together not only teaches teamwork and nurtures friendship, but also expands our understanding of different places and peoples.

Collaboration is a fundamental aspect of engineering, as it allows our students, current and future engineers to function as a cohesive team while performing one’s own role and responsibility. Choir singing with songs in multiple languages further helped the students to build new relationships and gain insights into diverse peoples and cultures throughout the project duration.

Following the great tradition from the Spring concert, the Department again purchased international snacks to share with our audiences.