Although they come from varied backgrounds—hailing from Germany, Panama, Pakistan and Turkey—four of this year’s Masters of Engineering Management (MEM) class share a common bond: all have traveled from their home countries to the Duke University Pratt School of Engineering with the full support of a Fulbright Scholarship.
“When I found out I got the Fulbright, I was ecstatic,” said Adnan Haider from Pakistan, noting that the competitive program draws thousands of applicants in his native country each year. “It was one of the best feelings I’ve had in life.
“It’s not just funding. You become part of the Fulbright family. You have an instant connection with other Fulbrighters—links with people of different disciplines and from different countries. That’s the real Fulbright experience, the real value.”
Established in 1946, the Fulbright Program offers more than 1,300 students from more than 140 countries around the world the opportunity to study in the U.S. for two years. The aim is to increase mutual understanding between Americans and those from other countries, through the exchange of people, knowledge, and skills.
An interest in cross-cultural exchange was also one of the many factors that led the Fulbrighters to select Duke and the MEM program. This year’s 107 incoming and returning MEM students are internationally diverse, including citizens of India, China, Singapore, Russia and several other countries in addition to the global group of Fulbrighters.
“The international aspect is one of the best qualities of the MEM program,” said Genoveva Wong, a citizen of Panama. “Meeting people from different cultures enriches your knowledge about other ways of life and different ways of thinking.”
Another draw was the MEM program’s focus on case studies and collaboration, said German citizen Valerie Speth. She said these are approaches to learning that are not stressed as much in Germany as they are in the U.S.
And, of course, the Fulbrighters cited their curiosity about the U.S. as a big factor in their decision to apply for the scholarship and MEM program.
“The U.S. is such a strong, influential player in the world,” said Erdem Sahillioglu, who is from Turkey. “I wanted to come and see and learn for myself. I wanted to be here, not just read about it in the newspaper.”
After completing their terms of study, the Fulbrighters said they will each return to their native countries to live and work for at least two years.
Learn more about the Fulbrighters:
Adnan Haider, Fulbright Scholar from Pakistan
Haider holds a bachelor’s degree in computer science and worked in Pakistan as a technical specialist for IBM, with a focus on computer storage solutions. While still a student, Haider began numerous entrepreneurial projects such as serving as the editor of a book on failure called The Blue Screen of Death, and working on the development of lootmaar.com, an online Pakistani marketplace based on the eBay model.
“Internet use in Pakistan is growing by 30 percent per year,” Haider said. “It’s a tremendous business opportunity just waiting to be taken.”
For Haider, entrepreneurship is a way of making a bigger impact on the lives of others by creating jobs, and the MEM program a way of gaining the tools and experience to achieve that goal.
He also chose Duke and the MEM program in large part for its strong interdisciplinary nature.
“Duke has exceeded my expectations,” he said. “Its focus on interdisciplinary study isn’t just marketing—when you dig deeper, it’s really there.”
In addition to engineering courses, MEM students are able to take courses within a variety of departments and schools, ranging from the Nicholas School of the Environment and Earth Sciences to the Fuqua School of Business.
Haider has also taken early advantage of various cultural and intellectual events at Duke. For example, he has attended a panel discussion about the broad effects of the human genome project—which included a dance choreographer and a geneticist among others—and a jazz performance.
Genoveva Wong, Fulbright Scholar from Panama
Wong studied industrial mechanical engineering before working as a financial analyst for Cable & Wireless Panama, the largest telecom company in Panama. She spent last year studying at the University of Waterloo in Canada as a student in their masters of business entrepreneurship and technology program, before enrolling at the Pratt School this fall.
As for her early impressions of the MEM program, “I love it,” Wong said. “The faculty are amazingly helpful. They coach and support us a lot.”
She also enjoys the focus on case studies as a way of adding a “bit of reality” to theory and the numerous opportunities for networking with alums and friends of the program.
After completing her coursework and internship, Wong said she hopes to apply her entrepreneurial education by starting her own business in Panama.
Valerie Speth, Fulbright Scholar from Germany
Speth studied technology management in Germany. There, she conducted independent research into a nanotechnology “sputtering” process for depositing copper onto silicon wafers—atom by atom.
Speth said she enjoys the attention to detail that scientific research requires, but also found herself interested in working with people.
While still in school, she worked in the quality management department at DaimlerChrysler and then in the customer relationship management department at Porsche.
That work experience afforded her the opportunity to see how the automotive industry in particular and manufacturing industry in general works.
Speth will participate on a team in this year’s CUREs competition, a not-for-profit business plan competition aimed at the development of products that meet the medical needs of those in developing countries. She is also a member of an MEM committee for industry and alumni that is now planning a “Night with Industry” networking event.
Ultimately, she is interested in pursuing “lean manufacturing,” a philosophy of manufacturing built on the reduction of waste, perhaps as a consultant in the energy or automotive sector.
Erdem Sahillioglu, Fulbright Scholar from Turkey
After completing a bachelor’s degree in industrial engineering, Sahillioglu found the MEM program to be a “perfect match” for his interests in engineering and business.
“The MEM program was exactly the one I had on my mind, even before I knew it existed,” Sahillioglu said.
His background in industrial engineering—a combination of core engineering principles and management—prepared him well for MEM, he said.
“In industrial engineering, we took a systems approach to optimizing solutions. That was the key word, ‘optimize,’ we were always trying to make things as good as they could be given limited resources and other constraints.”
After finishing school in Turkey, Sahillioglu’s interest in learning first hand about the U.S. led him to apply for a Fulbright scholarship.
After learning that the Fulbright would support his enrollment at Duke in 2006, he then traveled to Germany where he held an internship in the information technology corporate functions department of the logistics company DHL, which specializes in the customized transportation industry.
Sahillioglu worked as a marketing and communications assistant for DHL, providing the content and design for the company’s online frequently-asked-questions, a site with more than 130,000 users worldwide.
Sahillioglu said his upbringing in Turkey, a diverse country with a unique blend of European and Asian influences, provided a good foundation for the challenge of living and working in other countries.