The International Friendship Program at Purdue: What It Is and Why You Should Sign Up ASAP

Moving to a new place is always difficult. You are not familiar with the city, have no idea where anything is located or where you need to go, and you don’t have any friends just yet. Such a transition can be especially stressful for international students who come to the U.S. for the first time. Adjusting to the new culture can be quite challenging (especially during your first semester), and it usually takes some time. Typically, making friends with American people really helps with the transition, because your American friends can introduce you to their culture and the American way of living. But…how do you make friends with Americans in the first place? Surely, not all of us are lucky enough to be born with the natural talent of making friends easily. However, all of us international students here at Purdue are lucky to have the opportunity to participate in the International Friendship Program, or IFP, during our first semester in West Lafayette!

IFP helps new international students and scholars connect with the community by matching them with a local host or host family. The friendships that are formed as a result of such pairings help new students and scholars adjust to the new culture, and make their transition to living in Greater Lafayette area easier. All you need to do is sign up for the program, and then your IFP host will contact you to arrange some fun activities for you to do together approximately once a month.

Personally, I did my undergrad studies in the States, so I wasn’t new to the U.S. when I came to Purdue; however, I was new to Indiana and West Lafayette. Being paired with my IFP host, Linda, has really helped me during my first semester at Purdue. She has invited me to participate in a number of really fun activities organized by her church.

We went to the Fall Festival and screening of the movie Hidden Figures, saw a performance of A Christmas Carol and attended a Purdue Women’s Tennis team match. Linda connected me with many Russian-speaking students, as well as some Russian-speaking professors (it turned out that she had spent several years living in my home country and speaks fluent Russian!). Although the IFP technically only lasts for one semester, many students become such good friends with their hosts that they stay in touch with them long after that semester is over! Linda and I were matched back in August of 2018, but we still exchange messages on a regular basis and do something together from time to time. I am very thankful to the IFP program for giving me a long-term American friend, and strongly encourage all the new international students and scholars coming to Purdue to take advantage of this wonderful opportunity!

Three Minute Thesis Competition – a great opportunity for graduate students to stand out

The Three Minute Thesis Competition (3MT) is kind of a speech contest for graduate students. They talk about their research (thesis) in three minutes with only one slide. It is not a conference-like talk, but rather a speech; they don’t introduce themselves in the presentation, there is no Q&A session afterward, and they are disqualified if the presentation exceeds three minutes. 3MT started in the University of Queensland and expanded to other universities including Purdue. Purdue Graduate School organizes this exciting event every Spring, where a big number of Purdue graduate students participate every time. (for more information, see Purdue 3MT website).

I learned about this event from Dr. Linda Mason, the Dean of the Graduate School. She is a science communication professional and offers graduate seminars/workshops every semester. Just like other students, I was so attracted by her passions and the way she talked in the seminars. That was the time I started thinking about participating in 3MT. But it seemed to be a big challenge – talking in public is definitely out of my comfort zone, and as an international student, I thought I was already having a linguistic disadvantage. I shared this feeling with my fiance – hey, I kind of want to try this, but I don’t know if I can do it. Then he, without trying to encourage me or anything, just went straight to the Purdue 3MT webpage and registered me.

The preliminary round was just me talking in a regular classroom in front of three judges. The absence of a big public audience minimized my nervousness. Luckily, or maybe thanks to the fridge in my apartment that was listening to my practice every night, I was selected as a finalist among 100 participants.

Unlike the preliminary round, the final took place in the newly-built, huge auditorium in the Wilmeth Active Learning Center. I thought I would be extremely nervous but my confidence level had increased since being selected as a finalist. My friends came to watch me, and I tried to do the power posture to just pretend that I was a superwoman (if you haven’t watched Dr. Amy Cuddy’s TED talk, I highly recommend it for those who have low self-confidence like me). And the miracle happened; I was placed second among the eleven finalists. That was one of the few experiences (or maybe the only one) where I’ve been under the spotlight. I felt even a little shy on the stage.

Purdue Three Minute Thesis Competition 2018. All the eleven finalists and Dr. Linda Mason (left).

This all happened last year, April 2018; but, the story didn’t end. Earlier this year of 2019, I received an email from one of the 3MT organizers saying “would you be interested in participating in the Midwest Three Minute Thesis Competition in St Louis?” I didn’t wait for a second to say yes.

I couldn’t make another miracle happen in my second 3MT experience. There were 40+ students representing each university in the Midwest, and all the talks were high-level. Some talks were even entertaining to make the audience laugh. Although I didn’t make it to the final, it was a wonderful experience to see all the talks and interact with the participants. I couldn’t believe that Purdue provides such a fantastic opportunity for a student like me.

The Midwest Three Minute Thesis Competition 2019 held in St. Louis. Representatives of Midwestern universities.

Waiting for my returning flight at the St. Louis airport, I was writing a thank-you email to the Purdue 3MT organizers who sent me to St. Louis. Then, one of them asked me, “would you be interested in being a judge in Purdue 3MT this year?” Wow, my 3MT journey never ends.

People at Purdue are respectful and inclusive, both students and faculty/staffs. I feel all the students (both domestic and international students) are equally treated and respected, and I believe this is a very important factor when you choose graduate school. Furthermore, there is plenty of opportunities where you can challenge yourself, stand out and grow as a professional researcher. 3MT is just one of many opportunities. I can’t wait to see what’s coming up next in my graduate life at Purdue!

Experiences as an International Graduate Student Parent at Purdue

Pursuing graduate studies is a big decision for anyone. Unlike their peers, graduate students spend years in graduate school before they start their professional career.  Besides the typical challenges that any graduate student may face, graduate student parents face different challenges, especially if they are international students. Many international students have families and, most likely, young kids.

If you and your spouse are students or you are living with your kid/s alone, a big challenge is choosing a good place to leave your kid/s while you are in school. This place should provide a safe environment, to foster the healthy growth of your child and improve  their academic skills.

There are four daycare centers on the Purdue University- West Lafayette campus. Being on campus,  these centers are convenient options for an easy drop off and pick up. I have experience with three of them, Ben and Maxine Miller Child Development Laboratory school (MCDLS), Purdue Village Preschool (PV Preschool), Purdue University Early Care and Education Center (PUECEC). I am satisfied with my experience with all of them. The teachers and staff are very professional. They provide a safe environment for my kids and the fun activities that each child needs. Those child care centers provide different options for graduate student parents. If both parents are students, the full-time option in MCDLS and PUECEC  are perfect. Before I started my graduate studies, my son used to attend PV Preschool, as it is a part-time preschool. Besides the fact that  it was very affordable, my son had his best moments there, and learned lots of things from his lead teachers and the Purdue student teachers.

It is important to note that once you get your admission letter from the graduate school, you need to look for a daycare for your kids. Don’t wait until you arrive at the campus to look for the right place for your kids. You can register for Purdue daycare through this link https://www.purdue.edu/hr/childcare/Account/Login. Using your Purdue ID, you can add your kids to the waitlist of the daycare. Purdue University opened the Purdue Early Care and Education Center in  August 2016, which helped accept more kids, but it is still necessary to plan ahead of time for your kids.

Also, my son enjoys the after-school programs offered by Purdue daycares. These programs offer extended care for school-age kids. PV Preschool has a wonderful after-school program that is affordable as well for most graduate students (this program will stop by May 2020). PUECEC also has an after-school program where your kids will have lots of fun.

Purdue offers a great summer camp “Boiler Kids Camp, BKC” which offers fun and educational activities for kids 5-12 years old. In BKC, your kids will play different sports, cook, climb, do crafts, play games, learn about science, and do experiments. BKC is on campus which is very convenient. BKC is popular and spots fill quickly, so keep an eye on their website and register your kids as soon as they open the registration. Also, the Gifted Education Resource Institute (GERI) at Purdue offers a fantastic summer experience for kids in Kindergarten through fourth grade. Super summer camp provided my son with hands-on STEM activities.

Pictures of different celebrations in PUECEC (on the left, Persian New Year; on the top right: Day of the Dead (Mexican Holiday); on the bottom right: Chinese New Year.
Jake Guy, Director of PUECEC said “We believe exposing children to a variety of different cultures, backgrounds and ethnicities will give children a well-rounded representation of others in the Purdue community. Our families are very diverse here at the center from each corner of the United States to other corners of the world! We love to celebrate what makes children and families feel at home and what is important to them!”

As an international student, I understand that it is always a concern as to how to raise your kids in a different country. Finding a balance between being engaged in the community you are living in and preserving your cultural traditions is very important. Since Purdue University has one of the largest international student bodies among the US public universities, Purdue child care centers provide a great experience for international students. Before your kids join those centers, they will ask you to fill a form that has questions about your child, including the special holidays you celebrate. This question shows that these centers greatly respect the diverse cultural backgrounds of their students.

My family was always welcomed to share information about our home country, Egypt. When my son was at MCDLS, we visited the school and shared information about the ancient Egyptians; we wrote the names of my son’s friends and teachers in hieroglyph, the language of ancient Egyptians, and the kids built pyramids with magnetic blocks! A few years ago, when I visited PV Preschool, I showed the kids the lantern “Fanous”, which a representation of celebrating the month of fasting “Ramadan”. These small and simple things make my kids and I feelwelcomed by the community here. It has helped my kids accept that they have a different culture, but they still can celebrate our holidays with their beloved friends. In the PUECEC, kids count numbers in different languages: English, Chinese, Swedish, Arabic and Spanish. This activity encouraged my son to know the numbers in Arabic, our native language, so he can say it correctly  when speaking to  his friends 😊. I think this is a great experience for all kids because it  helps them appreciate diversity early in their life.

My son celebrating  our holiday “Eid al-Adha” with his friends in the MCDLS with a cake shaped like a sheep, “symbol of this holiday”.

Although, the full-time child care centers are sometimes expensive for graduate students, there are resources that may support you. The Purdue Graduate Student Government (PGSG) offers child care grants for eligible graduate students. Another option is the Patty Jischke “Kids are the Future” Endowment scholarship. Those resources help make the child care expenses more affordable.A

As a graduate student parent, you will need support from other graduate student parents. The Graduate Parent Support Network (GPSN) will help you with that. This network will allow you to see others’ experiences and also share your experiences. It will provide you with helpful resources and also, it is a chance to make new friends for you and your kids too. Also, they organize trips to nice places, such as the trip to Indianapolis children’s museum.

Resources:

1- Purdue Child Care Centers Information: https://www.purdue.edu/hr/familyfriendly/purdueChildcare/index.html

2- Purdue Child Care Registration: https://www.purdue.edu/hr/childcare/Account/Login

3- Boiler Kids Camp (BKC): https://www.purdue.edu/recwell/programs/youthFamily/boilerKidscamp.php 4- PGSG Child Care Grant :(https://www.purduegradstudents.com/child-care-grants)

5- Patty Jischke Endowment Scholarship: https://www.purdue.edu/hr/familyfriendly/jischkeEndowment/index.html 6- Graduate Parent Support Network: https://www.purdue.edu/gradschool/student/families/gpsn.html

7- GERI Supper Summer Camp: (https://www.education.purdue.edu/geri/youth-programs/super-summer

Interested in Graduate Schools in the USA? Here are Some Tips to Consider

Purdue University CLA

Joining graduate school is a life-long dream for many people. However, many people lack enough information about what the application process entails, and some of the considerations to make when looking for schools. The application process is even more difficult for most Africans where the awareness of various vocabulary used in the academic calendar of many American schools is scarce. Below I offer some tips that prospective students and/or their families can follow when making the choice of the US school to attend.

Do you want to join in the fall, spring, or summer?
Most American schools accept admissions for the fall, spring, and summer semesters. However, most international students tend to join in the fall (Aug or September) and spring (January). In most anglophone countries, the fall season is what is known as autumn, but in the USA, it is known as fall, I guess because that is the time when trees shed their leaves in preparation for the start of winter. Each university and the program of interest might have different admission conditions. Therefore, it is good to reach out to the school of interest and inquire about their admission requirements.

Know what you want and where your interests lie
Eleanor Roosevelt once said that, “the future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams”. It is important to know the program that you are interested in and its requirements. For example, different programs have varying requirements for GRE and TOEFL requirements. Therefore, evaluate your interests clearly, and know what is required of each major of your interest.

Prepare well for GMAT/GRE/TOEFL
Almost all programs require prospective students to take a standardized entry exam. With the exemption of business schools, which require prospective graduate students to do a Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT), most programs require students to do a Graduate Record exam (GRE). The required scores vary across schools. However, those interested in medical and law schools do different entry level exams.
Additionally, international students are also required to take a language exam to assess their fluency in the English language. This can either be the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) or the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) exam. These exams require thorough preparation because they are anxiety provoking, but they can make your admission easier if you score highly. So, know which exam is required of you and prepare well in advance. You can check the details of these exams by googling them online.

Are you interested in scholarship, assistantship, or is your family meeting your education expenses?
Most schools have assistantships, and some have scholarships available to support graduate students. Assistantships are the most common forms of financial support for international students. Depending on the requirements, if offered, the assistantship require the incoming students to either be a teaching assistant (TA) to a professor or be a research assistant working in a lab. In exchange the school pays for your tuition and gives you some monthly stipend. If offered, the federal law requires international students to work for a maximum of 20 hours a week, and these are spread out in a way that working does not violate your classes. The application process for both scholarships and assistantships is separate from school application. If your family is supporting you, well and good, you do not have to worry about this! However, life is very expensive in the US, so trying either a scholarship or assistantship does not hurt!

Keep an eye on the deadlines
Schools are strict on deadlines and they won’t extend them for you! Make sure you know when the deadlines for the application are, and plan ahead! Schools start accepting applications a year earlier. For example, for those interested in the Fall 2020 admission, the applications will open starting the fall of this year (Aug to Dec 2019). Knowing the deadline is important in getting your references informed and for effective preparation for the entry exam.

Ask questions
Show interest and connect with the faculty and students in the school of your interest. For instance, ask about the assistantships available, admission requirements, and if the school can waive some requirements for you. Some schools waive TOEFL requirement for international students from anglophone countries.

Robert Nyaga is a Ph. D. Candidate studying Health Communication at Purdue University

IEEE Group

Expand Your Network: Honor Society & Fraternity I

I have heard that fraternity and sorority are kind of a must-joining for undergraduate students in their college life especially there are some movies talking about the Greek life. People are proud of being brothers or sisters in their fraternity or sorority. They have the same missions and goals to complete some projects. In most of movies, they describe the fraternity and sorority in a funny, weird, and downside way. It seems like people only do parties and hang over all the time. But, how about in the real life? Is it true that brothers’ and sisters’ lives are what movies demonstrate? Also some people think honor society as an evil cult. The elites do something secret and are isolated. Is that true? Let me tell you MY experiences and break the rumors.

The chapter also hosts companies for recruiting events, runs a student lab space, performs community service, and hosts weekly social events for members and friends.

I joined Eta Kappa Nu (ΗΚΝ) Beta Chapter, an honor society for students who excel in the field of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Purdue University. HKN or IEEE-HKN is the international honor society of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE). The organization promotes excellence in the profession and in education through an emphasis on scholarship, character, and attitude. Membership is a lifelong designation for individuals who have distinguished themselves as students or as professionals in the fields of IEEE interest. There are 263 IEEE-HKN chapters worldwide now. Membership in HKN is limited to the top third of seniors, the top fourth of juniors, and the top fifth of sophomores. Graduate students are also eligible for membership beginning in their second semester of graduate study. 

HKN Beta is best known at Purdue for the member staffed HKN Student Lounge (EE room 24). https://engineering.purdue.edu/hkn/

One day there was an email for HKN callout. I had no idea what it was but my friend wanted to attend and encouraged me to go. So, I went to the callout and learned what HKN was and how to become a member. Before being initiated as an active member, people are called “pledges,” and pledges need to complete all requirements before the initiation. In Beta Chapter, for example, some requirements are volunteering for a community service project, attending one social event (TGIF), and participating in lounge cleaning. After completing all requirements, pledges go to initiation, a ceremony conducted by the officers of HKN to induct the pledges into the honor society of HKN. Since the initiation is unique and secret in every honor society, I will not talk more about this exciting part (Come join and you will discover!)

HKN Lounge Alone! Come to visit the Lounge!! Free Bagel NAND Donut Day when companies sponsor with Tech talks!

After being as an active member, there are still some requirements that members need to complete every semester such as doing at least 2 hours community service and ECE service, working weekly Person-On-Duty (POD) at the Lounge, etc.

The lounge accepts cash only! Active member needs to work the POD for at least two hours every semester. It is a good time to meet and talk to more people and ECE faculty members.

Since I did many volunteering service in the Greater Lafayette, one of my recruitment directors, Héctor E Rodríguez, encouraged me to be the Volunteer Director. I would really like to thank him for starting my leadership development. I was successfully elected as Volunteer Director. During that year, I have provided many volunteer opportunities for the members to participate. They were all inspired by my passion and did a great job on the service. Now they have good relationship with some community partners and volunteering with them regularly. Under my hardworking, HKN was nominated for “The Community Engagement & Involvement Award” in the annual Student Activities and Organization award in 2014.

My outstanding HKN Officers

Besides, I have learned how to contact people and organizations efficiently, how to encourage students when they felt bored or tired during the service, and how to lead people. I now feel more confident while talking to foreign friends. Also, I have become more outgoing and think positively. Lots of my friends are also inspired by my enthusiasm and now we are doing the happy volunteer service together! The leadership made me more organized and communicative.

Giving paddle to the graduate at the banquet

A year later, another Recruitment Director, Nadra Guizani, encouraged me to be the President when I expressed my interest. I felt it was a good opportunity to lead HKN but I was not sure I had this ability to do that. She gave me many positive supports and……. I was elected! 

When I was President in Spring 2015, HKN had the most members ever, and still many ECE students were interested in and wanted to join the society. My goal was to make HKN more publicity and have our members more united. I made the sandwich board and put outside ECE building, so all the people have chance to come to our very own student lounge and buy delicious coffees. In the meantime, I also tried to connect members in a good relationship and to give back to ECE Department. 

Semester Banquet

I was so happy to join HKN and did not regret. I met many smart and nice people, and we supported each other. I want to especially thank my two Recruitment Directors, Héctor E Rodríguez and Nadra Guizani, for bringing me to the HKN and they are like my mentors. They helped me and encouraged me a lot in many ways so I could try many new things in HKN. I also understand more about myself, how I react to different situations, how to negotiate and compromise, how to solve the conflict, etc. 

Turkey Suit Fundraising: The week leading up to Thanksgiving break, several faculty members in ECE compete to raise donations for charity. The faculty member who receives the most gets to choose any charity they like to which all the donations go. Additionally, they must wear the turkey suit to the class they teach ahead of break, incentivizing their students to donate.
HKN Student Leadership Conference: a signature program of the society and is an opportunity for members to meet with other officers, members, faculty advisers, members of the Board of Governors, and staff. The conference includes opportunities for professional development, leadership training, and networking.
I made a poster of what community service HKN does generally every year.

I am honored to be HKN member!

I was the recipient of HKN Outstanding Active. Pretty surprised when the President announced my name in the banquet!
I LOVE HKN!
One of TG events: Halloween Party Night

How about fraternity? Stay tuned! That will be another fantastic story!

Fountain Winter

Are You Joining Purdue in the Spring Semester? Tips to Survive Winter

For those joining Purdue in the spring semester, there is always an extra challenge to acclimatizing- that of having to deal with cold weather. Most places in the Midwest, where Purdue University is located, start experiencing cold weather from mid-October and then temperatures keep dropping till mid-March when they start to peak again. Here are some few tips that can help you to prep well for cold spring weather:

  1. Shop for warm clothes before flying: most often, clothes might be cheaper in-home country than here. Besides, you might experience delays in your flight itinerary if the airports experience temporary closures due to severe weather, such as snow storms. These clothes would therefore keep you warm during such times before you can shop for extra ones after arrival.
  2. Shop for winter boots. Make sure you bring a winter boot- one with good tread to use during snowy days. If you are coming from a warm climate, this might be your first-time experiencing snow and your normal dress-up shoes might be too slippery or lacking a good grip.
  3. Check weather before leaving your apartment. In winter, weather can fluctuate drastically. Checking weather regularly is important in ensuring you don’t underdress for the day or even walk out during severe weather.
  4. Check university news regularly. Sometimes the university closes down if temperatures drop to dangerous levels. This could be during times when there is snow storms or when there is risk of frost bites due to extreme low temperature.
  5. Leave your apartment warm, even when attending classes.  If you turn off your heater, your water pipes might freeze, so it is important to make sure your leave the heater on. In case of any freezing of the pipes, remember the landlord might charge you for repairs.
  6. Join a connection group. Winters can be isolating because it is the time of the year that most people remain indoors. Luckily, there are several connection groups on campus that you can join. If you don’t drive, members of the connection groups often help international students with shopping and just being mobile around the community.
  7. Avoid winter blues by staying active. Find something fun to do. For some people this would be going to the gym or joining a singing class. Winter blues are real, and sometimes they resemble clinical depression. It is important to therefore stay active, be present in the moment, and take it easy! Winter season does not last forever!
  8. Stay warm! Don’t forget to buy a flask to keep your tea or coffee hot. Remember, you still need that extra energy to hack the assignments and research projects!
  9. Got questions, please ask. Most people at Purdue and the surrounding community are friendly. If you have any questions, please ask. It never hurts to ask!
STEM kit interaction

Service to the Greater Lafayette Community

Being a student at Purdue University does not necessarily mean only doing assignments, writing research papers, conducting research, being a good research assistant or exceling in teaching as a TA and taking part in student organizations and clubs. We get plenty of opportunities to give back to society in some small way and transfer our learning for the greater good and change the world for the better. I tried to sound fancy using designer words 😊. All that I want to convey is we can do community service.

            There are small organizations that depend on grants and government support to serve the educational needs of the underprivileged population of Greater Lafayette. They receive funds to run the organization and maintain the infrastructure but not enough to employ teachers and other staff who would keep everyday events going regularly. They rely heavily on Purdue University students and other volunteers to bring innovative ideas and enrich the learning environment. I am sure there is no dearth of talent and service minded people among our graduate students at Purdue.

STEM kit image

            One such organization is the Bauer Center in Lafayette. The place is house to children from nearby K-12 schools whose parents work for long hours and are not at home when the kids return from school. Bauer Center takes care of these kids till they are picked up by their parents past dinner time. The children get food there and are expected to stay indoors for safety reasons and sometimes they get immensely bored. Also, without proper guidance they tend to lose interest in education and don’t even think of future STEM careers. This is where the Indian Women’s Association Academy entered the picture. As members we try to instill interest in STEM topics among these kids. Ladies from IWA Academy visit Bauer Center every week and try to garner the attention of the kids with demonstrations of experiments that may get these kids interested in STEM subjects. We take STEM kits that teach about Magnetism, Electricity and other topics and allow them to play with them while their learning is scaffolded by us. Learning with play and experimentation is something they love and theoretically it promotes “inquiry learning.” We could see that the kids were having a lot of fun during these sessions as they tried to figure out what was happening and why

STEM kit image

            Similarly, at Imagination Station, a science center in Lafayette that is frequented by kids 3-10 with parents and guardians during weekends, IWA Academy organized a session of Exploration. Little kids participated along with their parents and guardians in fun electricity and magnetism related activities. I also had a lot of fun that day and it gave me great joy to see their little faces light up with excitement when they completed a circuit. See the eyes of the butterfly in the picture. 

STEM kit image

Did we spend on the STEM kits?

            No, it was made possible by a Service Learning Grant that I applied for and was awarded by the Office of Engagementat Purdue in Fall 2018. I use the grant to buy these wonderful STEM kits and other raw materials that IWA Academy needs to conduct these experiments and demonstrations at Bauer Center and Imagination Station. The grant is administered by my department’s business office.

            So, many of you will be wondering – What is in it for me? According to the book of academic careers 😉a candidate should have Teaching, Research and Service experience. You must have heard your adviser, or a professor talk about this, right? Let this be your service experience. That is how I started when I was trying to complete the “Service”requirement for my portfolio. Now I cannot stop doing what I started because it makes me truly happy. 

            Reach out to the Office of Engagement, try to get a service learning grant, and extend your expertise and knowledge to help someone in society. 

STEM kit image

This is your WIIIFM, folks…..