In the last two years, I have learned a great deal.
Now, as I look back and I remember the last 24 months, it seems as if it was only just yesterday that I was arriving from Syria. The lessons I have gained represent more than the technological skills and knowledge acquired because I have also had great mentors. These individuals have supported me in the pursuit of my master’s degree in the field of Information Technology and Management (ITM); they have also taught me about finding th%e right environment for human development and growth. Illinois Institute of Technology – the faculty, alumni, staff and my fellow students – has provided the foundation for moving forward – skills, knowledge, wisdom and approach to creativity and further learning.
Lesson # 1
Finding the right people; people that believe in you!
People that will give you the opportunity to be what you want to be! What was really unique about Illinois Tech is the relationship with my professors and advisers. When I arrived at IIT, I was fortunate to be granted a teaching assistant position in the ITM department. At the start, I wasn`t completely sure if I could handle these new responsibilities in a new university. The Dean of the School of Applied Technology told me in our first meeting, “Elias, I believe in you; we believe in you, the School of Applied Technology believes in you, and so does the university – and we all believe that you will do very well.” And that, was my start.
It wasn`t easy to deal with all what is going on in Syria and with all what I had here in terms of my studies, but with the help of my professors, I have learned that you have to work on the two tracks at the same time.
Lesson # 2
Everything is connected to everything else.
First, you must work on your studies, and your academics – your education track. Second, you must work on your life, and your life filled with its promises, problems, and challenges. Carol Davids taught me that you cannot leave the one for the other. You must work on your entire life, all the time; and this is why you need to be surrounded by great people in an inspiring environment that provides terrific feedback and advice – and support.
I believe that was the most valuable lesson I have learned that helped me to be where Am I today!
Lesson # 3
Confront your challenges.
Other lesson I have learned from my colleagues and my advisers is this; you must face your challenges, ask questions and know that you are not alone. For me, this was especially difficult when I felt that I didn’t have enough time to address some of these matters, or when I felt that it would be easier to put aside the question, challenge, or difficulty at hand.
I remember visiting my adviser, Madeline England, so many times that I worried that I might be bothering here. I wanted to appear confident and strong and yet I was struggling – sometimes academic and sometimes with all that was happening in Syria – and I was learning how to share these thoughts.
On one afternoon, I went to my Adviser to ask her about dropping a course, and she told me, “You can do it! Work harder this month and see if you still want to do that!”
I learned how to work in teams, study more effectively and to face the problem and not avoid it!
Lesson # 4
Believe in yourself – and others.
When I arrived at Illinois Tech, I wondered if I would ever be able to develop the necessary skills and background to competitively interview for one of the many outstanding jobs available to IIT graduates. I worried and too often underestimated myself.
When I got in IIT, I was totally not aware of the fact that I can find a job in the field, just because I never tried, and I was afraid to try. But Sara Dell, one of the advisers in the career center, worked with me on my resume, she told me, “Elias, we will work with you and you will find a great internship.” Sara encouraged me to go to the career fair. Sara and Bruce Mueller went there to encourage other students and made thing less stressed. I felt very comfortable because of their support, and I have learned to help others to grow in their confidence. I found a wonderful internship in Summer 2013 and worked with several IIT alumni who have been equally supportive of me; what a terrific network of support in Chicago and globally.
Lesson # 5
Give Back. Contribute.
I am indebted to so many individuals; my family, friends and colleagues in Syria, my new friends, colleagues, faculty and staff at Illinois Institute of Technology. I welcome the opportunity over my lifetime to create these same kinds of opportunities afforded to me – to so many others.
I also want to thank my parents for their support through all of the Ups and Downs; to President Anderson and the faculty for their support of students like myself; to Dean Carlson and the School of Applied Technology for giving me the opportunity, and Hossam Shobokshi for his ongoing and unrelenting support of myself and many others. My parents knew me and so cared for me; I am overwhelmed at times by the support and outreach by so many who cared for my dreams before they knew me as a person.
And so, we give back.
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The common factor among all these is that these people in that believed in me, and kept pushing me, and reminding me that I can do it if I want it, which was something I wish I had before in my previous universities!
These encouraging actions transform students to the next stage that they are reaching towards, and that`s why I believe it is true when I hear the IIT Theme “Transforming lives”.
At IIT you will find people who will be your second family, other than the one back home.
The trip just starts here. Again, thank you IIT for helping me in clearing the Start point of the Track! And now as I have learned, it is time to move forward! Yes, this is the attitude that I have learned both from the experience here and the situation in my country.
You cannot stop what is happening, but it is your choice to surrender or move forward, as long as there are people that believe in you, and you know that you can do it.
Just move forward! Together – and transform lives.