International students chase big dreams and big data careers in UW Advance

UW Advance

Big data and big aspirations converged this summer when 20 international students got a taste of University of Wisconsin-Madison in the UW Advance program. Students from six Chinese universities—the University of Electronic Science and Technology of China, Guangdong University of Technology, Nanjing Agricultural University, Nanjing University of Posts and Telecommunications, Northwestern Polytechnical University, and Northeastern University—concluded their Badger experience with a ceremony at Kronshage Residence Hall on Aug. 10.

UW Advance is a three-week residential program that provides rich academic experiences, enhances English-language skills, and immerses international students in local and regional culture. The summer 2018 program also explored one of the job market’s hottest fields: big data, which involves analyzing giant data sets to identify important trends and patterns.

In addition to examining the world  through the lens of data analysis, the students learned from one another and built friendships through their interactions in English classes, faculty lectures, workshops, recreational activities, volunteer experiences, and more. The activities roster also included field trips to medical software company Epic, Devil’s Lake State Park, and the classical-music performance series Concerts on the Square. See below for a gallery of photos from the culmination ceremony.

‘An exciting and challenging journey’

Sara Bembenek-Saborio, an English as a Second Language instructor who works with UW Advance, recalled how the students bonded while serving food at Porchlight, a local homeless shelter, and while weeding gardens in the Eagle Heights community, where they discovered adorable families of mice. She was impressed by their generosity of spirit and their eagerness to grow and challenge themselves.

“Seeing you at the Memorial Union Terrace, dancing and watching the sunset together, was a highlight,” she told the group. “I can tell that you’re all going to be great successes in whatever you choose to do.”

Hongchen (Tom) Ma, a Nanjing University of Posts and Telecommunications student who hails from a tiny town in China, said UW Advance broadened his horizons and exceeded his expectations about the American college experience.

“Madison is beautiful, clean, and safe, and the people are so nice,” he said. “I knew this could be an exciting and challenging journey for my first trip to the United States, and it truly was.”

He added that he appreciates the new point of view he developed in Madison, and unforgettable experiences like receiving a birthday cake from his teachers on his 21st birthday.

Lin (Lilian) Li, a student from Northeastern University, says the memories she made during UW Advance will propel her forward in life. She expects that the big data knowledge she gained will propel her forward in her career as well.

“I now have a different understanding of the applications and context of big data, and I think I’m going to continue my education by studying financial big data,” she said.

Lengning (Layne) Li, another student from Northeastern University, hopes to continue his study of bioinformatics at an American graduate school.

“After three weeks of living and studying here, I’ve achieved many goals, improved my English, made friends, and improved my knowledge of statistics,” he told the audience.

Li also shared how a trip to the doctor showed him that he can thrive in the U.S. despite the language barrier.

“I went to the student health center after I smashed my finger, and I was anxious because I had never spoken to a doctor in English before,” he explained. “The doctor was very nice and very patient, and soon everything was better.”

Ready to take on the world

After viewing a slideshow of photos from the students’ three-week experience and receiving certificates of completion, participants said goodbye to their new friends, who ranged from fellow students to instructors and other program staff. UW Advance Director Christine Inthachith readied each of them for the long flight home with a message of gratitude and hope.

“We hope you’ve gained valuable experience, expanded your knowledge, and made new friends,” she told the group. “Best wishes from all of us at UW Advance.”

For more information about UW Advance, visit the program’s webpage or contact Christine Inthachith at christine.inthachith@wisc.edu.