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Carnegie Mellon’s CEE community: A welcoming environment for international students

Welcoming, collaborative, and rigorous — these are just a few of the words assistant professor Gerald Wang uses to describe Carnegie Mellon University’s (CMU) Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE). It is evident through its vibrant, international student body within and beyond the department — over 40% of CMU’s student population are from abroad.

“Our department is, above all else, a collegial and friendly place to study, work, learn and grow. We love working together — student, staff and faculty — to solve (hard!) problems”, he says.

As someone who spent two summers during his undergraduate years studying abroad, Wang knows first-hand what it’s like to leave home and to be a stranger in a foreign land. Having a faculty and student body that put community and camaraderie first “goes a long way,” he says.

Through numerous social, academic and professional events that are organised by CMU students, staff and faculty members, Wang had the opportunity to experience celebrations of many different cultures from China, India, Greece and many others. “These empower us to learn from people who come from different backgrounds and life experiences, to sharpen our sense of fairness and kindness, and ultimately to produce the most broadly impactful science and engineering we are capable of,” he shares.

For Adithi Simha Jayasimha from India, leaving home to pursue a Master in Civil and Environmental Engineering was the first time she had ever left home and travelled alone to a foreign country. She describes her early days at CMU as a “unique experience filled with fear and happiness” that ultimately brought her out of her comfort zone. Fortunately, it did not take long for her fears to disappear entirely.

Jayasimha vividly remembers her CEE department orientation that was held just two weeks after she arrived. All it took was a faculty member complimenting her jacket, which led to further conversation. Today, she can be found taking part in any and every activity at the CEE department that will bring her closer to her peers.

“It is the best way to make new friends or spend time with your peers or the department. There are amazing clubs for interested students to join, a great way to make like-minded friends. I’m into sustainability and through the Sustainable Earth group, I get to attend events and participate in activities around campus to make a difference,” she enthuses.

Jayasimha’s experience is a reflection of the wide range of support and fellowship for international students at CMU. There is an Office of International Education (OIE) that facilitates international and cross-cultural experiences, perspectives and initiatives, as well as acts as liaison students, researchers and professors — an important resource to keep the community spirit alive during a pandemic.

Master’s student Bimochan Poudyal from Nepal shares that even though the pandemic has brought upon a new normal, this has not stopped them from creating memorable experiences together.  “Even though in-person activities were put on hold, the CEE department organised a lot of virtual events to keep us connected. There were trivia nights, bingo nights and even a virtual pancake breakfast,” he shares.

When Poudyal needed help with career guidance, counsellors and graduate coordinators at the CEE department were ready to be of service. There is a superb team that stays up-to-date with the developments and requirements related to the career and professional development of students. “I mostly used the drop-in office hours with Lindsay Luciano, career consultant for the CEE department, for help with jobs and internships. Since Lindsay previously worked at the OIE office at CMU, she was familiar with CPT and OPT requirements which saved me a lot of time,” he says.

Life in Pittsburgh

Affordable, bustling and scenic — Pittsburgh is an ideal base for international students to explore the state of Pennsylvania and beyond. “CMU and Pittsburgh, in general, are absolutely wonderful places to spend your graduate career … If you love the outdoors, there is no shortage of opportunities right by our campus. If you love the indoors, we’ve got a treasure trove of world-class restaurants, museums, venues for art and music and other cultural attractions’” says Wang.

Whether you will be needing a language programme to help you prepare before you begin your course; professors that will support you during; or career counsellors that will ensure you are ready for the workforce after graduating, Carnegie Mellon University’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering has something for everyone, every step of the way.

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