Even though Deepak Gupta (E'89, TPR'89) graduated from Carnegie Mellon University more than 20 years ago, his first-year experience has stayed close.
Making that inaugural flight from his home country of India to the United States, Gupta recalls feeling rather intimidated.
"It was a new country, a new university, a new life, a new everything," he said.
Like most first-year students, Gupta had to manage academic and personal hurdles. His courses were rigorous, and he had to develop new friendships.
"I was thinking it would be great of there was a way to foster more of a bonding experience between freshmen," Gupta said.
His experience led him and his wife, Sunita, to become avid supporters of many student organizations and outreach programs at the university — particularly the College of Engineering's (CIT) First-Year Experience Program, which they endowed in 2009.
The program focuses on social engagement, academic advising and professional development. It offers networking events for alumni and students, research information sessions, public speaking workshops, service-learning opportunities, real-world engineering experiences and more.
It aims to increase students' sense of community at the university and help them navigate their career paths.
Gupta said in business and academia it's all about working with others.
"Learning how to interact with people is so critical to everything you will do in life," he said.
Korey Haug (E'15) remembers attending a networking event as a freshman.
"It's incredibly powerful," Haug said. "It's a good opportunity to see what those interactions look like and how they happen. I saw as I moved along through the courses in my major, that my courses enabled me to build on that foundation."
Jenna MacCarly (E'16) said she benefitted from several events.
"The Real World Engineering opportunity was fantastic. It allowed me the chance to visit Silicon Valley to talk to engineers in their workplace and discover more about different companies' cultures," MacCarley said. "It helped me think about employment opportunities early on and start my professional network."
MacCarley said another activity, called Major Declaration Night, made her feel connected to people in her major, electrical and computer engineering, and CIT.
"It was the first time we really all came together to bond and celebrate our academic accomplishments, of now and the future," MacCarley said. "It made me proud to be a CMU engineer."
Kurt Larsen, assistant dean of undergraduate studies at CIT, said the program has made a difference by helping students acclimate to CMU.
"It has also helped students to fully exploit the curricular and meta-curricular opportunities to enhance their education," Larsen said.
Gupta said the wide range of majors and educational opportunities available to students today means they have many decisions to make, including what they plan to do after graduation.
"I know a lot of engineers who never ended up being engineers," he said. "To me, engineering is one of the best degrees to get. You learn how to analyze, break stuff down into modules and synthesize it back into solutions. Those skills can be transferred across many different businesses, industries and jobs."