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…..

Conference Group Photo

Conferences: Confluence of Ideas

I am not going to talk about the great Tamil Sangams that took place in ancient times in India, but about an education technology conference that I attended recently. First let’s see what a conference is. This is what I got from our friendly source, the internet.

What is a conference?

A conference is a meeting of people who “confer” about a topic. Conference types include: Academic conference, in science and academic, a formal event where researchers present results, workshops, and other activities. Athletic conference, a competitive grouping of teams, often geographical.

What happens at a conference?

At a conference, innovative ideas are thrown about and new information is exchanged among experts. Its purpose could be one of the following: An academic conference is a gathering of scientists or academicians, where research findings are presented, or a workshop is conducted.

As a learning design technologist, as I would like to call myself than the often-used term instructional designer, I was encouraged by my department to attend this conference. This time I needed some push because the event was to take place in Kansas City. Here you should note that in 2016 I did not need any pushing because the conference was in Las Vegas. I was also eager to attend another early this year in New York. For international students Las Vegas and New York are bigger attractions. Anyway, this conference was organized by Association for Educational Communications and Technology or AECT. It brings together people from around the world who are instructional designers, teachers and professors researching about and working on incorporating technology into classrooms. We believe that making the classroom experience more attractive and engaging will enhance student learning and that one way of doing that is using technology.

My interest in innovative technologies drew me to sessions about using Virtual Reality (VR), Augmented Reality (AR), games, biometrics and Artificial Intelligence (AI) in classrooms. Although the entertainment and marketing industries have adopted these technologies long time back, there adoption into education has been slow. Firstly, because we still don’t know if it will work and secondly, because it is so expensive.  A lot of research is being done on whether using these technologies will enhance learning or whether they will cause cognitive overload. It is my opinion that incorporating technologies should be intentional and should not be for the sake of using it.

The most interesting of all was the use of Alexa in the classroom. The presenting researchers said that, Alexa was adopted happily by all the teachers in a school, who found innovative uses in physical education, music, language courses, STEM classes and so on. The most remarkable effect of Alexa in the classroom was when a student who is shy and normally does not speak to anyone was seen trying to converse with Alexa when he thought no one was looking. That I think is phenomenal. Little children are more comfortable talking to a device than a human being? This made me sit up and listen. Is technology getting so powerful and capable of replacing humans even for making friendly conversations?

Another important occurrence during the AECT happened when I was attending a get-together with a service organization.  There were loud cheers from few people when they heard we were from Purdue.  They said, “My children are so happy that Purdue won the game.” They were referring to Purdue’s football win. I asked if their kids were studying at Purdue. They said no, their children were studying in University of Michigan, and University of Wisconsin and so on, but all these families watched the match on TV. They got super excited when spectators stormed the arena and danced with lights flashing to match the beat of the music. They said that their children were so grateful that Purdue beat the other team. We were even thanked and praised for Purdue’s win.  To be honest I’ve never touched a football in my life, leave alone American football. I don’t understand anything and so I don’t watch the games. But my friends and me were so happy when people wished us for the victory. Thanks team! They went on to spend nearly 15 minutes talking about the fabulous way the match was played and how students celebrated. Fortunately, I knew all this happened because my professor discussed this during a meeting a day before. Otherwise I would have stared back at them with blank eyes 😉. This event became bigger than the AECT conference itself, for me. I was so happy and left the place elated about being a part of a great university!

Graduate Student in Purdue Homecoming Court

My Experiences in the Purdue Homecoming Court

 

This week is Purdue Homecoming week. What is homecoming? I looked up the dictionary and could not find a good translation since in Asia we don’t have this term. Homecoming is an annual tradition in the United States. People welcome back alumni and former residents with a series of activities such as a banquet, a football game played on a school’s home football field, and a parade featuring the school’s marching band. Besides these activities, the school also selects homecoming court. The homecoming court is a representative group of students who are completing their final years of study at their school and who have done a lot to contribute to their school. It is extremely honor to be selected in the court. The entire student body votes for the Queen and King.

In 2016, the Purdue Student Union Board was looking for involved and enthusiastic candidates for the 2016 Homecoming Court. Selection of the court was based on the candidate’s essay, resume, academic achievement, extracurricular activities, and community involvement. I told myself that I should give a try in my school life! I had a strong involvement at Purdue, doing tons of volunteering service, building leadership at many organizations, and receiving many scholarship and awards on campus. Therefore, I started to write the essay why I was proud to be Boilermaker and what my most rewarding Purdue experience was and why.

Ready for the parade
Ready for the parade. Queen’s wave~

In the end of May, I got an email from PSUB. Congratulations! You have been selected to be the 2016 Homecoming Court! I was selected!! The FIRST EVER international graduate student was selected in the homecoming court! I was over the moon, and I would be going to sit on the convertible car and do my queen’s wave in the homecoming parade!

After being selected, I was planning to make a fun and attractive button and a catchy slogan during the campaign. In 2016, people were crazy for Pokemon Go. Therefore, I decided to make a poke ball button so people could catch me all. Some of my friends helped me design as well. Where should I put my name in the ball? How big of my name should be in the button so everyone could see it clearly. What font should I use? What color of poke ball should I choose? Generally the ball was red, but the red color was a feud color. After long discussions and modifications in several weeks, I used Purdue gold for showing my loyalty. 

Poke Ball
One of the button designed: Poke Ball

For the slogan, since my number was five, I had give me five, pick I-Fan and high five I-Fan. But I was not satisfied with them until a teacher suggested me the catchy slogan: “I am a Fan of I-Fan.” Therefore, I also made a formal button and a banner for it.

banner1 banner 2

The official campaign started on Monday 6pm and lasted for ten days. If candidates did any advertisement before 6pm, they would lose points. At 8pm, I started to post my flyers and I saw some candidates’ posters at every store around Chauncey Hill. Only two hours! I could not believe that they did it so fast in only two hours. They must have had a campaign team! My friend and I only posted 5 flyers in the first evening. I had no experience of campaigning and got very frustrated. However, if I gave up now, the game was over ahead of time. I would not be easily defeated. The next day, I sank my teeth into the campaign. I carried my heavy posters to every restaurant and store off-campus for their permission to post my flyer in their places. Most of them were happy to support and were super proud that I was selected in the homecoming court. Finally, I distributed around 60 posters in the Greater Lafayette. I even distributed my poster to Silver Dipper located in Sagamore Parkway and in Exploration Acres, the largest corn maze in Northwest Indiana. People told me that they saw my posters everywhere. I made my goal.

corn maze corn maze 2
corn maze 3 silver dipper

On Thursday, I just realized that if I chalked on concrete sidewalks, I did not need to clean it after the campaign since the rain would wash it automatically. Therefore, I started to chalk. One of the reasons was I had given out all 300 buttons I made. But rather than generally chalking such as vote for I-Fan, my friend told me that we could chalk poke balls just like the button I designed. So, we chalked several fun poke balls on the ground. Unfortunately, this chalking disappeared the next day. There was no rain in the evening. I was very disappointed but I had not given up. During the weekend, I was on fire. I chalked a lot in the popular and important places on campus such as CoRec entrance, Engineering Mall, PMU, bus stop, and Elliot Hall. Take a look. The fun fact was other candidates mimicked my idea and started to chalk creatively. The PSUB Homecoming committee also told me I did a great job.

chalk ads
Chalking around campus for the campaign

During the campaign, I also showed my big banner when walking on campus or on bus. In the beginning, I was shy and embarrassed. I did not like people staring at me all the time, but it was also a good time to be brave. I would regret if I did not do my best. Therefore, in the last two days, I held my banner naturally and gracefully walking on campus.

The final selection was based on the interview (50%) and general body votes (50%). The formal interview was held by a panel of judges composed of faculty, staff, students, alumni and community leaders. The interview was about 15 minutes with six questions.Banner and jumbo buttoncampaign stuff

Finally, I did not get crowned because I did not do very well on the interview part unfortunately. I did not prepare for the interview and did not present/advertise myself to the judges well.

But I was told by PSUB that I got the most popular vote! My hard work paid back. (That was also my main goal.)

I was honored to be selected in the homecoming court, and really glad to have this opportunity to be involved in the American’s tradition. I also thank my friends and many organizations with their fully support such as PGSG and Purdue Bands & Orchestras Department. My advisor also was excited and gave me some suggestions for the campaign. Some of my friends told me in the beginning that it was impossible to get votes and competed with undergraduate students. But, you never know until you try. Never give up and nothing is impossible!

assorted photos

union male court
Scoreboard podium

Country of Hope and Development: My Experience of Research in Pakistan!

As Boilermakers, we always stick to our great slogan “WE ARE PURDUE, WHAT WE MAKE MOVES THE WORLD FORWARD” meaning that we always try to actually move the world forward with our research. Sometimes, as part of our research, we get the chance to travel to different regions in the world to help communities in different scientific issues, which, in my opinion, is the whole idea of our slogan. Fortunately, I recently had the honor to be part of a research team representing Purdue University to travel to Pakistan to work on water quality of two major rivers in that region. This was a great experience for me that I decided to share with you in this post.

Let’s start with the very moment that I was told by my advisor that as part of my Ph.D. research, I have been assigned to be part of a scientific cooperation between the United States and Pakistan working on “Endocrine disrupting chemicals in Kabul and Swat rivers and their impact on fish populations and rural community livelihoods“, which was funded by United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and implemented by National Academy of Sciences (NAS). I remember that I was so excited to be part of this project as it was a great way to help the people of Pakistan to improve their water quality. I should say that I don’t believe in such concepts as border and nationality, meaning that we’re all from one beautiful planet no matter where we’re born, in what language we speak, or even what religion we practice; however, when I got the news, I had this feeling that now that I can’t help people of my own country who are really suffering from lots of environmental issues, I have been given the chance to play my role in that area of world. We started the preparation process for our upcoming trip to Pakistan in June in order to do water sampling in these two rivers.

River Kabul and its tributaries including River Swat are major freshwater sources in the KP province of Pakistan that serve the water needs of most of the Northern mountain and Northwestern plain areas of the province. These rivers also serve as a rich source of various fish species which local populations depend on for their livelihood as well as the tourism industry. Unfortunately, untreated effluent discharges from dozens of small and large-scale industrial units enter the Kabul and Swat rivers directly or indirectly. For more than a decade, there have been complaints about the declining water quality of these rivers and reduced crop production. There has also been a substantial decline in fish numbers as well as reports of mysterious fish kills, ultimately affecting the livelihoods of rural communities. Therefore, we were quite sure that we should do our best to make the situation better (which is actually ongoing).

Everything was ready and we were prepared for a long 23-hour flight to Islamabad and then Peshawar where the project was supposed to be started. As an Iranian student in the USA who was fully experienced about the huge differences between the reality and what media show about a region, I was completely aware of what I was reading in the media about Pakistan and what we were going to see there; however, it is a lie if I say I wasn’t worried at all, which later on, I realized that I shouldn’t be worried even a little as it was the best country in the world with the greatest people I have ever seen in my life.

First Days:

Finally, after a two-stop-24-hour flight! we arrived at Islamabad at around 5:00 am while our colleagues were waiting for us there, which was the first sign of knowing how hospitable Pakistani people are. We started another two hours driving from Islamabad to Peshawar where we’re supposed to stay. For me, except the cars that had the steering wheel on the right side! everything kind of looked familiar which was a great feeling. I was watching people driving in different and the most colorful cars reflecting the great Pakistani culture. I was so excited about this trip.

Fortunately, we had a great place to stay in the University of Peshawar that was much better than we expected. This was a great news for us as we knew that we’re going to have a big jet lag after that long flight. However, it turned out that my advisor’s suggestion of drinking a lot of water before, during, and after the flight actually worked, and yes, we concurred the jet lag!

Next day was the start of the journey. The meeting with our Pakistani colleagues was the second sign of knowing how great Pakistan is. Since almost all the colleagues could speak English very well (even better than me), we started hanging out and actually becoming friends beyond being colleagues. I had never expected to make friends there when we were planning to go there, but after getting to know them, I realized that this was going to be even a much greater trip for me.

In that day, we went to see some sampling points in the Kabul river, which was my first experience of actually living in the city of Peshawar that was under Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) construction at that time. For lunch, we went to a local restaurant to eat “Chapli Kebab“!  We started talking about lots of things there as we were preparing for hard sampling days! 

In the first couple of days, after seeing people in the streets with their nice traditional outfit and talking with my fellow friends, I literally became in love with Pakistan. Even though Pakistan has unfortunately had such disastrous experiences in past years, I could easily see in their lives and in their eyes that they are hopeful about the future and are trying to develop more and more. This was the main reason that I unintentionally felt as one of them especially when I saw the number of mutual concepts in my and their culture such as similarities between their national language “Urdu” and our “Persian“.

Anyways, we had two rivers as our target points. Everything was ready, and I had already practiced a lot to make sure everything works perfectly. We were all ready for the project.

Going to Swat district:

Before Kabul, our colleagues had managed to start the sampling process first with Swat river in Swat valley for 4 to 5 days, and then come back to Peshawar for the sampling of Kabul river. Therefore, we started our trip to Swat districts, which was almost 6 to 7 hours driving. On our way, we started talking about everything including politics, literature, science, etc., so I kind of missed the gorgeous road we’re driving (also because it got dark when we started the trip). Finally, at around 2:00 am, we arrived at “Trout Culture Training Centre Madyan Swat” where we supposed to stay for the next couple of days, which turned out to be absolutely amazing.

Swat was the most beautiful landscape I have ever seen in my life. I don’t want to talk more about it, just watch this video:

See? It was like a dream. Even though we weren’t tourists and had the work to do, still, we could easily see how beautiful is this region. But besides its beauty, there was something else that made me be in love with the region, which I can generalize to the whole country: people!

It goes without saying that when you’re from another country with different looks and outfits and go to a less developed area of a country like Pakistan, it’s a fair assumption to at least not expect local people’s support, which was honestly my assumption at first too. However, it turned out that it was a completely wrong one. We received so much support and love in almost each sampling point that I couldn’t believe it. People were so kind and supportive that in some places, they even started helping us during the sampling process. This was, by far, the best thing I learned in this trip that Pakistan has one of the kindest and the most hospitable people in the world.

However, the sampling process was harder than we expected. Because of the road constructions and heavy traffics in some of the places, transportation was hard enough to make us not be able to get more than 4 samples in one day. As we were there in high flow season, measuring the river discharge was our another challenge that took us a lot of time to figure out.  We also got sick there a little but fortunately could handle it before getting worse. 

Meantime, we had the chance to meet new places and new people. We had been invited to some places and had the honor to meet local authorities discussing different aspects of the project. Speaking of meetings, in Pakistan, or at least in places I visited, Pakistani Chai, which is a combination of normal black tea and milk with a specific recipe, is the most popular drink that is being served in almost every meeting. At first, I remember I preferred just a normal tea (or as they call it “Sulaimani Chai”!), but after a couple of times that I drank the Pakistani chai, I became in love with it.

By the way, despite all the hardships, we successfully did all the sampling points alongside the Swat river and were ready to come back to Peshawar. We couldn’t do it there without the sincere help of local people and authorities there.

Coming back to Peshawar:

After 5 days of being in Swat district, We went back to Peshawar to continue the work on the Kabul river. We decided to rest for one day and be more diligent to finish the process in the next 2 days as we already had the experience of sampling in Swat. One huge difference between Swat and Peshawar regarding the sampling was the weather! In Swat, we had to be prepared for sudden rain and storm, but in Peshawar, the sun was the enemy! as it was so much hotter than Swat. 

We even decided to rent a small boat to move along the river to reach the points faster and easier than going there by car. This was a great decision even though the boat was much slower than we expected, meaning we had to be under direct hot sunlight for 7 to 8 hours. But we finally did the sampling process as excellent as what we did in Swat. I have already mentioned a difference between Swat and Kabul, and now is the time to talk about a similarity between these two regions: people, again! Same as Swat, we had the warmest and the most support available from people who were greeting us, trying to communicate with us, and especially, helping us. I was absolutely stunned by their amount of being kind and hospitable.

Last days of rest and shop:

We did the work! we did all the sampling points, measured all the needed parameters, and gathered all the data sooner than expected, so we could reward ourselves with resting and more importantly, being with people (also shopping for sure!)

Thanks to my friends, I had the chance to visit Qissa Khawani Bazaar for shopping and visiting cultural places, which for me, was reminding of the Grand Bazaar in my hometown, Tehran. There, I got the chance to buy different souvenirs. There, they invited me to eat the traditional Charsi Tikka, which was by far the most delicious food I had in Pakistan. It also reminded me of our Persian Shishlik kebab, which is also great. Just in case, did you know that in Pakistan, there is another platform like Uber called Careem?!

In that bazaar, I actually blend in with local people in a way that you couldn’t know that I’m not from Pakistan! How? see the picture:
Yes! my friend did me a great favor and brought me a traditional Pakistani dress that was absolutely beautiful. But on a serious note, those couple of days that we had the chance to meet people and talk about daily issues were a great experience for me to be more thoughtful in my future environmental activities.

Last words:

Humanity is beyond all the borders. People are not defined with their language, skin color, religion, nationality, etc. As an Iranian student, I can say that I have already suffered enough from different levels of misunderstandings and misjudgments. I also blame myself since I have also done such things that I don’t proud of. However, as an environmentalist, this trip to Pakistan was a great reminder for me to know that people are the same all over the world in spite of the politician’s struggles! In this trip, Pakistani people taught me to be humble and try for the betterment of your society, which was a great practical lesson that I won’t forget. I decided to not mention any names in this post just to write my experience, but my friends there know how much I respect and miss them. I hope I can see them soon. Even though Pakistan has had rough days in recent years, it’s now flourishing as ALL the people are trying to do their best to make their country a better place, and I want to speak to all of them that you are doing great. You have a great country to which I also feel belonged. You are the best and God Bless you all. It was a great honor for me to be there as a Purdue student and try to represent my university alongside with my other colleagues as it is what we do at Purdue University.

Regards,
Peyman