Program Helps CIT Students Navigate First Year-Faculty & Staff News - Carnegie Mellon University

Monday, December 2, 2013

Program Helps CIT Students Navigate First Year

ToysEven though Deepak Gupta (E'89, TPR'89) graduated from Carnegie Mellon more than 20 years ago, his experience as a freshman has stayed close.

A student from India, Gupta's flight to Pittsburgh marked his inaugural trip to the United States. He said he was somewhat 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.

"When I was a freshman, it was pretty autonomous," he said. "You swam or you sank, and I was thinking it would be great to have more of a bonding experience between freshmen."

Gupta and his wife, Sunita, have 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, 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.

"It's about getting people aligned with you, convincing people, bringing people along through good leadership," he said. "It's about getting buy-in from people on an idea that you have. How do you lead a team? How do you set up a convincing argument? Learning how to interact with people is so critical to everything you will do in life."

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."

Students in the program also organize service-learning projects. One event is working with CMU's annual Toys for Tots drive.

Kurt Larsen, assistant dean of undergraduate studies at CIT, said the program has made a difference.

"I feel that the First-Year Experience program has played a significant role in helping students acclimate to a challenging but rewarding environment at CMU. Students have more ways to explore majors and career options, making more informed decisions about their future," Larsen said. "It has also helped students to fully exploit the curricular and meta-curricular opportunities to enhance their education."

Gupta stressed the importance of being able to manage finances as a student and in the real world.

"When you go off to college, you have a lot more freedom. You have to figure out how to manage your time, and manage your money, and I know from my own kids that some don't know how to handle that," he said.

Gupta said the wide range of majors and educational opportunities available means students 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. They ended up being a lot of other things," 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."

First-year engineering students help organize the university's annual Toys for Tots drive.

By: Kelly Solman, ksolman@andrew.cmu.edu