New Country, New Dreams

Photo by Duane Zehr

By Matt Hawkins
June 29, 2015

Thousands of miles from his native Sudan, mechanical engineering graduate Mohammed Ali ’15 faced the daunting challenges of a new culture and the American higher education system. However, through friendships forged with faculty and career counselors, Ali found his niche and a career path in three years on the Hilltop.

Ali came to Peoria in hopes of following an acquaintance with Bradley ties who worked for Caterpillar. As he quickly discovered, international students face a steep learning curve in the classroom and career search.

That’s where engineering professor Dr. Scott Post and Smith Career Center engineering career advisor Sandy McDermott stepped in with needed wisdom. Post guided Ali toward internship and employment opportunities at Cummins Inc. while McDermott walked him through the federal government’s complicated processes for international students who wish to work in the U.S.

 “When I came, I thought it would be a simple process — get a degree, get good grades and I’d be hired,” Ali said. “The career center was the real deal for me. They walked me through all the issues I faced. It was a challenge to prepare for life after college, but they knew how to work with me.”

While learning federal guidelines for internationals, Ali also had to contend with a new learning environment, homesickness and culture shock. He connected with Bradley’s Bridges International chapter, Peoria Area Friends of International Students, and the University’s other multicultural organizations. These experiences helped him adapt and enabled him to build relationships and leadership skills.

“Those opportunities not only improved my skills, but I was able to sit down with students like me and see what was going on in their lives,” he said. “I wanted new international students transitioning to Bradley to feel welcomed like I was.”

In the classroom, Ali discovered a key difference between American and Sudanese education: presentations. While public speeches weren’t part of his undergraduate experience at home, they were a staple of the Bradley curriculum and U.S. business culture. Though terrified at first, he overcame his fears to master the art.

“I remember shaking during my first presentation here, but I was able to take advantage of many opportunities to overcome my fear and learn how to give quality presentations,” he said.

As Bradley courses taught valuable boardroom skills, interactions with faculty and staff also opened Ali to a new career path. Those conversations led to two internships with Cummins that changed his initial dreams for Stateside work. The two internships exposed him to technology that piqued his interest and led to a job offer at Cummins’ Cookeville, Tennessee center.

“Working in the U.S. is a dream come true,” Ali said. “I feel like there are a lot of international students like me who have a dream to go school and get a job here. We need people and faculty like those here at Bradley who help us get used to the U.S. and go through the government processes.”