IE int’l alum featured in GlobalMaker article
After graduating in December 2016, Xembayev worked as a Manufacturing Systems Engineer for Home Market Foods in Norwood, MA, and is now pursuing a Master's in Project Management at Northeastern University in Boston. He is from Almaty, Kazakhstan.
What made you decide to choose Purdue Engineering over other prestigious engineering universities?
Since childhood, I was good at math, which led me to Zhautykov Republican Physics and Mathematics Boarding School in my home country. By that time, I knew I want to become an engineer. I played it safe, and applied to 23 colleges for different engineering majors, expecting the worst. It turned out to be 7 admissions offers and 2 waitlists. At the time Purdue was ranked 3rd in the nation in Industrial Engineering (IE), while Stanford, another outstanding school, was 4th. After researching every school in every possible way, I decided to choose Purdue Engineering for its academic ranking, international recognition, famous alumni and Nobel prize professors, student body diversity, impressive researches and inventions that truly move world forward. Purdue was on my IE priority list so I accepted the admissions offer.
What resources did you use to succeed in your studies while at Purdue?
When I began my classes as a freshman, knowing nothing about time management and not expecting a rigorous curriculum, I have to admit I was caught off-guard. Gladly, at the beginning of every semester, announcements about Supplemental Instruction (SI) and various help rooms were made before classes. I used SI my first semester and went to math, physics, and ME help rooms in later years until I graduated. Help rooms were free for students and taught by Teaching Assistants (TA). I also went to TA’s or professor’s office hours regularly. Some professors were amazing in explaining difficult concepts, I still remember them and have deep respect for them. As I mentioned, time management was another personal weakness. I still face time management challenges today but handle it much better compared to my college years. I could focus on 2-3 classes and perform very good, but I usually had 5-6 classes in a semester, and I was not good at juggling them at the same time. Purdue has a student success center where I went to speak to my time management advisor, who taught me how to use a calendar and plan my time. It sounds like common sense but the majority of students don’t have these skills during their early 20s, as I didn’t. The advisor also told me about Wunderlist app that I've used since then. Wunderlist is amazing, you should try it!
How has your Purdue experience in engineering prepared you for your professional life?
Purdue gave me a solid technical background. It gave me the key to open doors to engineering firms. When I become involved in new technical job or project, I don’t get lost or disoriented, and can hold a conversation because I understand the logic of my engineering co-workers and the task we have to accomplish - even if it’s another engineering discipline I am dealing with. I am not saying I fully understand mechanical or electrical engineering or understand details of the problem instantly, but I can learn about the problem and I am able to help my team solve engineering problems from an IE perspective.
As an international student, how hard was it for you to transition culturally to an American university? How did you ease your transition?
English is not my first language. A language barrier existed when I first started. However, it wasn’t that difficult to culturally transition to an American university since there were many student organizations you can join - whatever your interests are. I was lucky to be invited to one student organization during my first week of classes my freshman year. I was invited to the President's Leadership Class (PLC) led by the 11th Purdue president [France A. Córdova] where I met really awesome people from different states and countries. Unfortunately I am not in close contact with them today, but PLC as a student organization helped me transition with ease. Also, Purdue has 2nd most diverse student body in the nation. There were thousands of other international students from around the world like me. I made international friends, too. Regardless of origin or country, international or [domestic] student, sometimes we all suffered through classes and exams and that made us united.
As an engineering student, what are some skills you wish you had developed which would have benefited you for your future?
I wish I had learned more software and statistical analysis skills while at Purdue. All IEs took two statistics courses, studied MATLAB, basic C programming, AutoCAD, Minitab, Arena and other tools. Even though I did labs and wrote reports, I didn't think where these software tools could be used in the real world. The majority of the time, I simply solved given problems and provided numerical answers without thinking how to analyze data. I should have asked more questions. Now I am better at analyzing data and understanding what data says about manufacturing performance and what can be done to improve it, but I could have started learning this in college.
What advice do you have for other international students pursuing internships and full-time employment?
My advice is simple - be genuine, polite and nice to employers. This advice is universal, whether you are pursuing internships or full-time employment in the U.S. or any other country. Employers hire students with zero experience for two reasons - they either look for new talent that can grow, or they have a short one-to-six-month project that an engineering student could handle when the employer doesn't want to hire a temp for that. It’s a win-win situation for both student and employer - the student gets valuable work experience, and the employer gets the job done. I saw a lot of international students fail at getting anything because they didn't ask specific questions about the job, didn't fully explain (or at least try to explain) how they could contribute to the company as an intern, and most importantly, they were not genuine. During your job searching phase, try hard to get noticed - but don't overdo it by listing things that are not completely true. Be honest. Once you get to the interview phase, ask specific questions about the job, and based on the answers explain (or try to explain) what you would do to solve the employer’s problem, and be honest and genuine. If it happens that you don’t know how to solve the given problem but the employer explicitly asks how you would solve it, be honest and tell the employer you don't know now but you are willing to learn, to find solutions and to help solve the problem. Most likely, the employer has someone on the team who knows the solution but they want to test your knowledge and skills, and to find out if you happen to know answer or what your intentions are if you don't know answer. Be nice and say thank you even if it was an unsuccessful interview. Be genuine and it will come naturally. Don't be the person who expects the employer will create all the conditions for your successful internship and future career. Also, don't forget about grades. They are important in the beginning.
What advice do you have for potential or current international students pursuing an engineering degree?
I would recommend setting priorities for every semester and experiment with different methods to accomplish these semester goals. Every individual is different and has different goals at school. Someone wants to excel academically to eventually get a high-paying job he or she loves, another wants to follow the path of academia, do research and invent new problem-solving tools and applications. Both want to engage socially on campus. There are 24 hours in a day: some prefer classic eight hours of work, eight hours of sleep and eight hours of leisure time, but others prefer a completely different schedule. Experiment with what works for you and fits your needs best. Good luck!
Source: Purdue Engineering GlobalMakers series