GEARE Hosts its First In-Person Alumni Panel
This past week, the GEARE program had the pleasure of hosting three recent Purdue graduates for an in-person alumni panel, where attendees learned about their path from undergrad to post-graduate plans and the impact study abroad had on their experiences along the way. This event featured panelists Roy Ramirez, Dr. Riley Barta, and Bekbolat Abdikanov, all who had great things to say in regards to their study abroad and time at Purdue. A common theme amongst all the panelists was the substantial impact that studying abroad had on their career goals, establishing a sense of personal identity, and simply enjoying their college experience.
Roy Ramirez is a 2021 Aeronautical and Astronautical Engineering alum who studied abroad at ESTACA in France. He emphasized that living in France was a transformative experience that truly changed the way he saw himself, such that he now considers French influence as part of his identity. Growing up in Costa Rica, he had some exposure to French but only became fluent once living in France. Upon his return to the States, he still uses his French language skills on a daily basis, especially when talking to friends made during his time abroad.
Dr. Riley Barta is a 2016 Mechanical Engineering alum who studied abroad in Germany at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT). When asked what the best memory of the GEARE program was, Riley emphasized it was not one instance in particular but rather the lasting connections made while abroad. For example, he recently returned to the area where he completed his GEARE work-abroad experience and was able to have dinner with friends he made years ago. Riley was proud to have made such close connections that endured despite the distance and the amount of time that had passed since he had last seen them.
A few years later, Bekbolat Abdikanov, Mechanical Engineering ‘22, also studied at KIT and had a part-time research internship during his time there. His favorite GEARE memories were the “non-study” study abroad activities like soccer matches, the consulting club at the university, and of course traveling across the continent.
One important question during the panel focused on the differences between the study and work culture in the United States compared to countries abroad. Our panelists had similar opinions that you are expected to be much more independent in both work and study situations. There, classes treat you “more like an adult,” as they don’t take attendance, courses are almost entirely self-guided, and your grade can be almost entirely based on a final exam. While it can be very different from the American curriculum, this experience helped them gain strong self-discipline and time management skills, and gave them the chance to learn in a different way. As Bekbolat commented, forcing yourself to adapt to a new way of learning refines your soft skills in a way that puts you in a better place for working in a group setting and interacting with those of different cultures; all the panelists agreed that they used their international experiences in every professional interview they’ve had.
Riley made an interesting point that in Europe, the phrase “Yes, I’m sure” is very different than in the United States. When people “understand” things it holds a lot of merit and means they likely are highly specialized and incredibly well-versed in said topic. It might take more time for a German to agree that “Yes, I’m sure I can do this,” but he found that they always performed at an incredibly high level after this guarantee. He compared this to the difference in the American education system, where we don’t go as deep on many topics but instead cover a wider range.
Many panel attendees were interested to hear advice to make the most of their time abroad. Across the panel, all three alumni stressed the importance of truly forcing yourself to be integrated with the culture. Spending less time with international students, learning and using the language, interacting with professors, getting involved in undergrad research, and not being afraid of failing or taking a risk on new opportunities are invaluable experiences. Bekbolat emphasized taking advantage of the alumni network and seeking out GEARE students that may have common interests or have participated in opportunities you find intriguing.
Finally, the panelists discussed their journey into postgraduate school. For Riley, he made the choice of academia instead of pursuing R&D in industry because he enjoys teaching. Roy also decided to go back to academia, and shared some advice that he was given when he was making his decision. He said there are three things to consider when debating pursuing academia: the place, the research, and the PI (the boss). He stated that if you like ⅔ of those, it is worth pursuing. For him, his research and his PI were his motivations to go to pursue more school (even though we all love West Lafayette!).
As the panel came to a close, the conversation shifted from their experiences abroad into their later pursuits. Currently, Roy is a PhD student and president of an aerospace startup company, AREX Costa Rica; Bekbolat is also currently pursuing graduate engineering studies. Riley is an assistant professor of Mechanical Engineering here at Purdue, as well as the refrigeration team leader at the Bitzer-Chair for Refrigeration, Cryogenic, and Compressor Technology at the Technical University of Dresden. All in all, the experience abroad has made a remarkable impact on each alumni’s respective career in steering them towards a postgraduate path they are passionate about, and, more importantly, creating a life for themselves that is both challenging and rewarding.
Anna Grace Hook
Purdue ME ‘25