As an international student at Wilkes University, Fahad Hamad Aldubayan ’84 received advice from his physics professor that he carries with him to this day: “Take care of your studies and your homework, and your grades will take care of themselves.”
At the time, Fahad was in the throes of a demanding semester, managing a 21-credit course load of mostly engineering, physics and math classes. He was considering dropping a course or two, so he sought the counsel of his advisor and professors, including physics professor Levere Hostler. All encouraged him to “press on.”
The work paid off.
Fahad, who grew up in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, made the dean’s list that semester.
“There were many challenges I faced once I enrolled for the first time…at Wilkes,” says Fahad, who graduated from the University with a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering and a minor in physics. “But honestly speaking,” he said, without the help of his advisor and professors, “life would have been very hard.”
Fahad was on a scholarship from his country’s Ministry of Higher Education, studying language at a university in Pittsburgh, when he chose Wilkes on the strength of its engineering program. He also wanted the comfort of a smaller campus in a smaller city as he pursued his studies.
Today Fayad is back in Saudi Arabia, where he is the general manager of special projects at SABIC (Saudi Basic Industries Corporation), one of the world’s leading manufacturers of chemicals, fertilizers, plastics and metals. He is married with two children. In his work, he is regarded for his can-do attitude, drive, knowledge and professionalism.
He fondly remembers the late Dean George Ralston “who always made difficult issues easy to overcome for all international students;” his advisor, the late Umid R. Nejib who helped students “aim high;” and many of his other physics, math, chemistry and engineering professors. He was a teaching assistant in his senior year.
“I truly enjoyed my life at Wilkes, and sometimes I reminisce about the good times I had…and the people I met from different nations as well as the locals,” said Fayad. “I still keep in touch with many of them.”
Yohanna de los Santos Maria ’09 heard a radio ad for Wilkes University while visiting her parents in the Wilkes-Barre area from her native Dominican Republic. Longing to attend college in the United States, and at her dad’s nudging, she sat down with a Wilkes admissions counselor. “Maybe this is a great idea,” she thought, as she took in the splendor of the University buildings and learned about the communication studies curriculum.
De los Santos Maria had completed a year of college in the Dominican Republic, and she was a strong student there. But she decided she’d step out of that comfort zone to pursue a bachelor’s degree in communication studies at Wilkes University.
Though she spoke English in addition to Spanish, de los Santos Maria nonetheless felt “culture shock” when she transferred to Wilkes. She grappled with grammar in her college essays, and her grade-point average slipped below what she was accustomed to receiving. “I was so disappointed,” she said.
When her essays were returned and she saw the problems a professor identified in her work, she used to “actually cry.” She wondered, “Why can’t I get this right? Why can’t I express myself well.”
Her English 101 professor was among those who recognized her struggles in a new culture where English, not Spanish, was required. Her English professor that first year took the time to sit down with her after class to go over what did not make sense in her essays.
“The professors were very welcoming,” de los Santos Maria recalls.
A commuter, she spent a lot of time in the Farley Library, studying and doing research. She worked on campus talking to prospective students over the phone about the University. One semester, she had a Top 40 radio show on college station WCLH.
Following graduation, de los Santos Maria headed to Disney World in Florida for a hospitality internship, then back to Wilkes to fill a temporary position as a freshman admissions counselor. She had a mentor in Amy Patton, associate director for transfer students.
Today, she lives and works in New York City, where she is senior event marketing representative at ALSAC/St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. In that role, she helps to raise money for the hospital, cultivating donors and planning events.
As for those English grammar woes? These days, de los Santos Maria says proudly, people ask her for grammar advice.
When Felixa Wingen ’09 came to Wilkes from Bonn University in her native Germany, she went from being an anonymous student among 35,000 at the European school to being greeted by name by professors.
“It’s much more of a campus atmosphere here,” she says. “But at the beginning, I was a little freaked out by professors knowing my name.”
Still, it was the personal attention that drew Wingen to Wilkes. Engaged at the time to an American from northeast Pennsylvania, she moved to the States to be near him.
“I applied to all the schools in the area. When I came to visit Wilkes, Amy Patton gave me a tour,” Wingen recalls. “Mike Franz (former vice president for enrollment) was doing international admissions at the time, and was so approachable. I really liked Wilkes. It was really Mike Franz’s outreach and accessibility that convinced me.”
Adjusting from a larger University to a smaller one also meant adjusting to different academic expectations and workload.
“I remember English 101 in the first semester. We had five papers – 3 and 5 pages each — to submit. That was a lot more writing than I was used to,” she recalls. “In Germany, we had lecture halls of 300 students. Even in smaller seminars, there were fewer assignments. That was a big change. I felt really overwhelmed in the beginning – probably normal for any freshman – but there was definitely more work day-to-day than in Germany.”
As an international student, she shared other adjustments with her American counterparts: “Just learning to navigate the bureaucracies of college was difficult. What’s a registrar?”
After graduating with a degree in English/secondary education with a concentration in English as a second language and a minor in art, Wingen completed an internship in the recently established Center for Global Education and Diversity at Wilkes. It led to a full-time position as assistant director. Wingen says the center strengthened the experience for international students. Wilkes faculty and staff were always welcoming, but the center created a home for them on campus.
“It’s completely different. When I came, I knew no other international students. Then I found out there were others,” she says. “There wasn’t really a place for us to go and they didn’t have an international student orientation. Once the center was started, I felt there was a place I could go. Because of the center, there’s a much bigger community, to support each other and live together. It has contributed significantly to the growth in the international student population because it has created a sense of community, of support, and of belonging. ”
Wingen left Wilkes in 2013, but her career has continued to focus on helping international students. She now works as an international student advisor – one of five – serving the University of Maryland’s 5,000 international students.