Studying in the USA: The Voice of a Stony Brook University International Student

This May, I was lucky to have the opportunity to visit the State University of New York at Stony Brook and spend a day on campus.  One of my students was admitted to that university last year, and several more of our advisees are considering applying to Stony Brook next year, so I really wanted to see the place with my own eyes and talk to admission office representatives and international students. There were many great activities, but I want to focus on my meeting with Anastasiya Suratova, a senior student in civil engineering from Belarus who kindly agreed to answer my questions on her life and study experience in the USA.

Why did you decide to choose this particular school?

I had several criteria (choice of major, cost of study, location, etc.) in mind when I was working on my school list. I heard about SUNY Stony Brook from my friends and relatives first, and then decided to look at it more closely; I learned that the school offers more than 200 majors, including civil engineering, which I was especially interested in. Four years have passed very fast, and graduation is right around the corner! I will be awarded a Bachelor of Engineering this May.

How was your studying experience during all those years in general? You mentioned you will get a BEng but not a BS?  What is the difference?

The workload was very intense and I had to manage my time properly to cope with all the tasks and challenges I faced. There was no one unified schedule for all students, so I was responsible for making my schedule, choosing courses and organizing my life. The course registration was quite stressful, and I am glad I managed to overcome all the difficulties and to make the right decisions.

In addition to the set of core courses in my field, I took courses in mathematics and natural sciences and many labs where I had a chance to apply the knowledge that I gained during the classes. My school offers a Bachelor of Engineering (BEng) in my major. As far as I know, a Bachelor of Science (BS) is a more theoretically based degree as compared with a Bachelor of Engineering (BEng), which is more practice-oriented.

Careers in STEM for women are still less prevalent than they are for men. Are there any strides on the part of the university to support your intention to become an engineer?

Yes, there is plenty of support. I am involved in a Women in Science and Engineering, or WISE, program that is designed to help young women realize their potential of becoming successful students and researchers, and help them find their niche in the profession. This goal is met through a special program offering extra classes, special scholarships and research opportunities, peer to peer advising, and leadership and community service activities. WISE scholars also benefit from having priority registration for classes, going on special trips, and separate housing where they can choose to live among other scholars. This program is very competitive; it accepts no more than 55-60 highly achieving students (2% of entire freshmen class), per year, and one needs to gain admission to the university first and then into the program.

Did you have a chance to do research?

Research was part of my program and I did a lot of practical work at labs during my study. SUNY is a big research university offering plenty of opportunities for both graduate and undergraduate students who express interest in research venues. Students could state their desire to work on certain topics and have a chance to partner with a faculty member or other graduate students. They could work on various research projects and showcase their results during annual conferences, as well as during other events (workshops and conferences) happening at the school and other places.

I know that you are graduating this May! How were all those years in general? Did your school provide any help to you?

Oh yes, the school supported me during my study here. I had an adviser whom I met to get advice regarding choosing my courses. Each course helps one earn a different number of credits, so help from an adviser was a big advantage, especially at the very beginning of the study process when you are getting adjusted to the educational system! It is very important to allocate your time properly to successfully complete your program and earn enough credits to get your degree. You also need to be sure to have your Grade Point Average (GPA) at a certain level to keep your scholarship. It also helped that I had free tutors (who were all upperclassmen) provided by the Academic Success and Tutoring Center (ASTC).

What are you going to do after graduation?

As an international STEM student, I can participate in the Optional Training Program (OPT) for three years. I found an OPT for me, but to tell the truth, it was not an easy task and I had to spend a lot of time on reading ads, working on my documents and sending out dozens of resumes. There is a Career Center at Stony Brook where you can get advice on many things, like writing a resume and presenting yourself during a job interview. They also have a list of organizations recruiting students who are looking for jobs and OPTs. Just to illustrate my efforts, I want to mention that I sent out my CVs to more than 70 different organizations and have received only two invitations for interviews. One of them was successful, and I managed to find a place in New York where I am going to start working soon.

How was your life on campus?

The campus is diverse, with students from more than 100 countries all over the world. Stony Brook has a managable but big campus with many buildings in it, and a bus that runs across it to help students get to their classes on time. It takes some time to figure out which class is in which building and all newcomers are armed with maps during the orientation sessions they all need to attend. Unlike many other universities, Stony Brook does not require that freshmen live on campus, so it has a large commuter population, meaning many students can continue to live at home while commuting to school. As an international student I lived on campus, and as a WISE student, I had the chance to share housing with other scholars in my freshman year. Living on campus gives you flexibility and saves you time, since you are right in the thick of everything.

There is no time to be bored as there are many clubs here and many extra-curricular activities are taking place all year round. Roth Pond Regatta, which is one of the oldest activities, is a competition among several teams. The purpose is to cross the pond from one side to the other before the other team does. Each team is responsible for creating its own cardboard boat, but not every boat makes it to the other side of the pond. Some boats fall apart in the middle of it, guaranteeing fun and laughs for the audience.

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