Published July 10, 2018
Thirty-eight undergraduate STEM students from Nazarbayev University in Kazakhstan are back home this week after taking courses ranging from engineering to sociology during the first six-week session of UBThisSummer.
Founded in 2010, Nazarbayev University (NU) includes undergraduate schools of engineering, medicine, humanities and social sciences, mining and geosciences, and science and technology, as well as graduate schools of business, education and public policy.
As a young institution, NU administrators say they want to offer their students the opportunities available at larger international universities to ensure they get the best education possible.
UB’s relationship with NU began when Provost Charles Zukoski visited the institution last September. Since then, potential research opportunities between the two universities have been discussed, as well as the possibility of bringing students to UB for the summer.
This past February, four NU engineering faculty members, including Dean Charles Surya, visited UB. Zukoski returned to NU last month to give a talk at the 2018 Eurasian Higher Education Leaders Forum; he also reported on the NU students’ experience at UB.
Heading up the summer program were John Wood, senior associate vice provost for international education; Peter Biehl, associate dean for international education and enrollment, College of Arts and Sciences; and Christine Human, associate dean for accreditation and student affairs, School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS).
As soon as the students arrived at UB on May 27, they were involved in activities, both academic and extracurricular. Human and Chelsea Montrois, SEAS student affairs assistant, gave the students an academic orientation and campus tour. Later in the week, the students met with Jim Bowmen from International Student Services; Chris Bragdon, assistant director for residential life; and engineering librarian Erin Rowley, who developed a library introduction workshop so that students could learn how to navigate UB’s immense collection.
Aida Iskaliyeva, a mechanical engineering student from NU, explained that since NU is only eight years old, it has just one two-floor library. “But at UB,” she said, “We can find several libraries to study in, which are very silent and cozy.”
Mechanical engineering student Azat Amiralin called UB “a great university with numerous facilities for students, including libraries, gyms and swimming pools.”
“The interesting thing about UB is the separation of the North and South campuses,” Amiralin said, adding that he enjoys taking classes at one campus and living at another — the students are housed in Goodyear Hall on the South Campus. “It’s easier to relax after a long day at university,” he said.
The diversity the students experienced at UB was noteworthy as well. Iskaliyeva and Amiralin took a course in STEM communications with five other students from Kazakhstan and another 18 students from the U.S. and other international locations, so the class featured a lot of cultural interaction.
“The students at UB are great, very smart and open-minded,” Iskaliyeva said. “We are all so different, with different clothes, different views of life. We have a lot to learn from each other.”
The learning experience at UB varies from that at NU as well. “Lectures are exciting and professors explain the topics in depth,” said civil engineering student Viktoriya Tsoy. She also enjoyed UB’s liberal atmosphere and how the university takes a student-friendly approach to academics.
Added computer science student Gaukhar Dauzhan: “I love the teaching styles. Professors make lectures interesting and interactive. The atmosphere in class is more relaxed, and students do not hesitate to ask questions and comment on the material. I enjoy every single day of being here.”
While many of the students took courses through the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, they were also enrolled in classes in management, chemistry, biology, math and other subjects to ensure a well-rounded academic experience. For example, Magzhan Gabidolla, a computer science student, took a 300-level class in algorithms and a course in psychology.
Other students took part in research, among them electrical engineering students Nazerke Kulmukhanova and Amanat Kafizov. The two conducted an independent study on orthogonal frequency division multiplexing (OFDM), a modulation format used for Wi-Fi and 4G communications, with Josep Jornet, assistant professor of electrical engineering.
But like all students at UB, there was life outside the classroom for the NU students. They attended a Buffalo Bisons baseball game, visited the Albright-Knox Art Gallery and took an architectural heritage tour of downtown Buffalo led by Biehl. They also took a trip to Fort Niagara and Niagara Falls — which was a huge hit with all the students.
“It was a tremendous experience to visit this famous place,” Amiralin said.
Wood noted that visiting these attractions “is an aspect that really adds to their experience. They’re not just enrolled in courses; they have something more that enriches their time at UB.”
Students also went off on their own to enjoy attractions like Canalside, downtown Buffalo and, of course, the shopping malls. But just getting around was an experience for computer science student Rustam Zhumagambetov.
“We are used to excellent public transportation in Astana (bus lines connect almost all of the city); it is unusual that in Buffalo, people rely on personal cars.”
Gabidolla was surprised by the range of car models available in the U.S. But computer science student Alen German summed it up best when he said: “The suburbs are beautiful. No traffic jams, fresh air, squirrels and bunnies. Ahhh.”
Administrators from the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, College of Arts and Sciences and International Education hope the 38 visiting students will return to Kazakhstan and spread the word about their experience at UB so more students will return next summer. They also expect that a few students enjoyed their time in Buffalo so much that they will apply to UB for graduate school.
“I love everything about UB,” Iskaliyeva said. “Everyone here is ready to help, which makes our stay here more comfortable. Every question has its answer; every request is taken care of rapidly. I know this is the first collaboration between NU and UB. I hope that this collaboration will continue further.”