Studying Abroad as a Mechanical Engineer: From Oman to the United States
I was only 10 years old when I was told that I would be moving to a technical college right after finishing elementary school. Being just a kid, it was mind-blowing news. “College only happens after high school,” I thought. Being one of the forty students chosen from over 400 candidates to join The Royal Guard of Oman Technical College (RGOTC) was only the beginning of my exposure to the technical world. I was lucky to be provided with a spectacular educational experience at an early stage of my life. Pneumatic systems, hydraulic systems, electrical systems, CAD modelling, and workshop machinery are some courses I took at RGOTC to earn a BTEC National Diploma in Mechanical Engineering by the time I graduated.
That academics at RGOTC as well as a couple of work experiences were more than enough for me to develop a sense of passion towards engineering, and to decide to pursue a Mechanical Engineering bachelor’s degree. My journey at RGOTC could not have ended better. I was awarded as the highest achieving student among the graduating class, and was granted a full scholarship to complete my undergraduate studies in the United States. Moving to the US was definitely a jump beyond my comfort zone. As excited as I was to start this new journey, I knew that I would be opening myself up to possibilities of stress and anxiety. Yet, I believed I should not hold myself back and so I sought to challenge myself to learn and grow.
After a fruitful academic career at RGOTC, I worked my way to be admitted to a world-renowned program that consistently ranks in the top ten engineering schools in the United States. Specifically, the Mechanical Engineering program at Purdue University, the subject I am currently on track to study, is one of the oldest programs in the world. As a rising senior, I have placed myself near the top of my class and maintained a great academic standing. Aside from my academic program, I have been able to work as a teaching assistant, a research assistant, a tutor, and held some leadership positions within some student organizations.
The Mechanical Engineering Industry
Steering away from the storytelling, let me shed some light upon the Mechanical Engineering program and its industry in general. Mechanical Engineering is a broad field of study; probably the broadest of all engineering programs. At Purdue at least, students undertaking the Mechanical Engineering undergraduate curriculum must take courses that involve Mechanical Sciences, Design, System Measurements & Controls, and Thermal/Fluid Sciences. Most likely, students do not like every class they take as undergraduates, which is absolutely fine. It is totally accepted that students are confident about one aspect of mechanical engineering rather than another. Moreover, the Mechanical Engineering industry is a rapidly changing one. A successful engineer must be keen to keep up with the developing technologies that are used in current design projects.
Throughout my experience, I have come to realize that soft skills are as essential to engineers as much as the technical ones. A professional engineer is required to think “outside the box” when attempting tasks. In addition, I cannot stress enough the importance of communication. The ability to effectively communicate with people regardless of their technical background in both written and verbal forms is vital. Furthermore, teamwork is even more important to engineers compared to some other professions. Technology and globalization have made this world a small one where engineers usually work within diverse teams. With diversity comes conflict, so a competent engineer should be able to manage conflict in the best way possible.
I have always been eager to develop the soft skills that would support me in the future as a potential engineer. Along with pursuing a Mechanical Engineering degree, I am enrolled in a set of courses to earn a certificate in Collaborative Leadership. From these courses, I have been learning a great deal about active listening, diversity, collaboration, and mentorship. Also, working as an undergraduate teaching and research assistant vastly improved my communication skills and my capacity for creative and critical thinking.
Student organizations are great resources for professional development and volunteering experiences. As the Professional Development Officer at Purdue Arab Society, I have been able to collaborate with the Purdue’s School of Languages and Cultures to organize opportunities that would help them improve some soft skills such as mentoring and coaching. Some of the programs I directed are a Conversation Partner Program and an Arabic Tutoring Program to help beginner Arabic learners, and a Mentorship Program to help incoming Arab students navigate their college life. Additionally, as the Service Chair at Pi Tau Sigma (the International Honorary Mechanical Engineering Society), I was able to cooperate with some non-profit organization to arrange some volunteering experiences for the Mechanical Engineering community.
The moral of the story is that no matter what someone’s occupation is, one should pursue the qualification and experiences that align with their interests and goals. Academic and professional development is limitless, and engineers specifically do not stop their learning at a certain point of their lives. Learn something new every day!
Ahmed Al-Habsi is an undergraduate student at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana. He also works with one of his Mechanical Engineering professors as an undergraduate research assistant researching the flow of bulk solids through bins and hoppers. Before that, Ahmed was an undergraduate teaching assistant at the Mechanical Engineering Department where he taught thermodynamic principles and led interactive tutorial sessions. Ahmed is involved with a couple of student organizations at Purdue University. He is the Professional Development Officer at Purdue Arab Society and the Service Chair at Pi Tau Sigma (the International Honorary Mechanical Engineering Society).
The energy industry has always been a passion, and a matter of interest and inspiration to Ahmed. Throughout his academic career, he has worked on developing the skills and knowledge that would support his professional career in the energy field. Outside Purdue, Ahmed once was a candidate of the Drilling & Production Camp offered by Shell where he was exposed to Shell’s largest projects in the Gulf of Mexico. At their training facility in Louisiana, he learned a great deal about subsea operations, overviewed operations and equipment associated with drilling and well construction, and identified operating guidelines and control systems. In the future, Ahmed hopes to work within the energy industry where he aspires to create a positive influence by enhancing current methods, improving sustainability, and employing renewable resources.