This story and more are available in the Spring 2013 issue of SmullTalk, a magazine for friends of the T.J. Smull College of Engineering
An international outlook enriches the Smull College of Engineering. While the college’s international students, professors and alumni may be small in number, they make a big impact.
No one has championed the importance of cultural diversity on campus more than Dr. Bruce Burton, ACIT ’94, Hon. D. ’08.
He’s worked tirelessly for several decades to recruit international students to ONU and make the campus an inviting place for students from all cultures.
Burton spent 40 years in the College of Engineering. He started as an instructor in mechanical engineering in 1958, chaired the Department of Mechanical Engineering for 20 years, and became college dean in 1985, a position he held for nine years before stepping down for health reasons. He then taught five more years and retired in 1999.
As dean, Burton led efforts to increase the number of international students in the College of Engineering. He believes a well-rounded education requires exposure to different cultures and that students who learn how to relate to people from other countries are better prepared to work in an increasingly connected world.
ONU may not have a large population of international students, but the University works hard to integrate the students into their majors and campus life, according to Burton. International students live, study and play right alongside their American counterparts.
“Often, students have misconceptions about a certain culture,” explains Burton. “But when they get to know someone from that culture through daily interaction, those barriers begin to break down.”
In 1987, when Burton was dean, he spearheaded an initiative that brought engineering students from Singapore Polytechnic and Ngee Ann Polytechnic to ONU to complete their bachelor’s degrees. The Singapore program – the first of its kind at ONU – continued for several years. Around 30 Singaporean students received engineering degrees from ONU through the program. After he retired in 1999, Burton began working part-time in International Admissions, where he has recruited hundreds of students from different countries. A worldwide traveler, he has visited Russia, China, Kenya, Europe, Egypt, Israel and Vietnam in the role of ONU ambassador.
Burton also brought the Sakae Institute of Study Abroad to ONU. This summer institute prepares approximately 25 Japanese students for study in America. Each year, several Sakae students decide to stay at Northern. Burton also helped to design a program for ONU’s Saudi Arabian students who need to learn English and adjust to American culture before they begin their studies.
With no imminent plans to retire for a second time, Burton says he’ll champion diversity for as long as he’s able. “It’s been gratifying to meet so many outstanding international students,” he adds.
A technology entrepreneur in Silicon Valley, Keng-Siang Lim, BSCE ’89, got his start at ONU.
Lim was one of the first three students to attend ONU through the Singapore program started by Dr. Bruce Burton in 1987.
Today, he’s a successful entrepreneur in the fast-paced world of technology, building five reputable Internet and software companies and holding 30 approved and pending patents. He’s currently the founder, chairman and CEO of NextLabs Inc., a leading provider of risk management software for large enterprises.
Born in Malaysia, the second of six boys in his family, Lim became an entrepreneur at age 13, starting his own tutoring business. With dreams of building “magnificent structures,” he attended Singapore Polytechnic and uncovered a new passion - computer software.
Lim came to ONU because British universities wouldn’t let him major in both civil engineering and computer science. “Dr. Burton completely changed my perspective when he told me, ‘You can study anything you want at ONU!’ With those few magic words, he changed my life forever. And I am very thankful.”
Lim’s intelligence and motivation made him a standout student at ONU. He looks back on his student days with fondness, remembering his first experience with snow, the kindly gift of a bicycle to help him traverse campus and town, and Thanksgiving and Christmas celebrations with Burton and professor Clyde Dornbusch and their families. Lim even nurtured his entrepreneurial streak at ONU by helping to open Ada’s first Chinese restaurant!
“ONU is the birthplace of my life in America,” he says. “I met so many great people and felt humbled by the unconditional help and open arms of so many friends and families. Most of what I know about American culture and values I learned at ONU, including my true understanding and embracement of creativity and freedom of thinking.”
Lim says his early exposure to global cultures, languages and religions shaped him into a global citizen and leader. He feels a responsibility to give back to society, thankful to the many mentors who positively influenced his life.
Passionate about education, global citizenship and entrepreneurism, Lim reaches out to young people in high school and college. He promotes outreach programs for cultural diversity and helps budding entrepreneurs learn how to successfully bring their innovations to market.
Dr. Kanti Shah earned icon status for his dedicated service to his students and the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE).
A professor of civil engineering at ONU for 31 years, Shah oversaw hundreds of student projects – some with an international twist – in his classes and for ONU’s ASCE student chapter.
Born and raised in India, Shah visited the U.S. as a young man and decided to stay and continue his education. He received his master’s degree from the University of Kansas and his doctorate from the University of Oklahoma. He came to ONU in 1971 after working as a civil engineer in India, Kansas and Pennsylvania.
Specializing in environmental and water resource engineering, Shah was a leading expert in his field. He wrote a textbook still used in college courses today. He helped develop the environmental option in ONU’s engineering curriculum and a freshman course that taught analytical and creative thinking.
Shah often engaged his students in hands-on projects to teach them how to think outside the box. Whenever possible, he incorporated an international twist to his lessons. For example, one of his freshman projects required students to develop a series of sketches for tourists to help them overcome the language barrier.
He also tried to open his students’ eyes to the hardships facing people in developing nations. “The average American uses more than 100 gallons of water per day, while the average Indian uses just 25 gallons,” he says. “I would try to point these things out. I would let my students know they were lucky.”
As the advisor for ONU’s ASCE student chapter, Shah helped student members tackle projects for area municipalities, such as designing bridges and sewer systems. During his tenure as advisor, ONU’s ASCE chapter consistently ranked as one of the top five in the country. Alumni and students honored Shah’s commitment to excellence and lengthy service by naming the ONU student chapter of ASCE the “Kanti L. Shah Student Chapter” after Shah’s retirement in 2001.
Dr. Khalid Al-Olimat is a leading voice on campus for religious tolerance.
A professor of electrical and computer engineering and chair of the Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering and Computer Science, Al-Olimat cultivates a greater understanding of Islamic and Middle Eastern cultures on campus and in the Ada and Lima communities.
Hailing from Jordan, Al-Olimat received his master’s degree from Bradley University in Illinois and his doctorate from the University of Toledo. He joined ONU’s faculty in 1999, establishing himself as an exceptional instructor and researcher in the fields of power engineering and control systems. In the past 14 years, he’s garnered numerous teaching awards and research grants.
Al-Olimat values the close-knit community found at ONU. “I really like a small institution,” he says. “ONU recruits top-quality students, and it’s a pleasure to build relationships with them and share my knowledge.”
He believes diversity is important in higher education because it leads to personal growth. “When students are exposed to different cultures, it improves and sharpens their self-knowledge and insight. When they experience multiple viewpoints, it promotes creative thinking,” he says.
A devout Muslim, Al-Olimat willingly shares information about his religion with ONU students and the wider community. He challenges misconceptions and points out the shared values between Islam and other major world religions. After Sept. 11, 2001, he played a vital role in calming fears and promoting peace and religious tolerance on campus.
Describing himself as the “elected Muslim community leader,” Al-Olimat serves as the advisor to ONU’s Muslim Student Association. He, along with other ONU Muslim faculty members, founded the Islamic Society of Ada, a nonprofit entity recently approved by the state of Ohio. These groups bring together area Muslims for shared worship and religious observations and host numerous social and educational events throughout the year for people of all faiths.
Al-Olimat says his goal is to raise funds to build a small mosque in Ada. “My dream is to have an actual mosque in Ada where Muslims can pray daily in congregation,” he says. “The mosque will also allow Muslims to be more involved with the local community and strengthen the relationship between different faith groups.”
Fabio Jacob wants to harness American knowledge and technology and bring it back to Brazil.
He’s spending one year at ONU studying electrical engineering through the Brazil Scientific Mobility program, a study-abroad initiative funded by the Brazilian government.
The contrast between Jacob’s hometown, Sao Paulo, Brazil, and Ada, Ohio, couldn’t be starker. The temperature in Sao Paulo rarely dips below 70 degrees Fahrenheit, and Sao Paulo ranks as the eighth largest city in the world.
Yet Jacob quickly adjusted to his strange new surroundings. The weather may be cold, he says, but the people are warm. “I’m used to living in a big city, but I like that ONU is a small school because people are really interested in getting to know you. I’ve been impressed by how friendly and helpful everyone has been.”
Determined to make the most of his experience, Jacob signed up for as many classes as he could. He also joined the men’s swimming team and a senior design team that is designing and building an automated lawnmower for commercial use.
Many of Jacob’s engineering classmates have never traveled outside of the U.S., and they are curious about his culture. “I teach them about Brazil and how it compares to the United States. I give them a firsthand account that they can’t get on the Internet,” he says.
Meanwhile, Jacob is soaking up new knowledge and insights every day. “You are used to how something is done in your country, and you think that is just how it is,” he explains. “But when you live somewhere else, you see different ways of doing things. It broadens your mind to new possibilities and new solutions. You adapt, and you are not the same person. The experience changes you, and that change is for the better.”
Jacob plans a summer internship in the U.S. with a multinational company before returning to Brazil. He will never forget his ONU friends and experiences, he says. “I will carry them with me for life.”