by Anna Wang, Undergraduate Student at University of Wisconsin Industrial & Systems Engineering Department 07/01/21
During the summer of my freshman year at college, I was taking a career preparation course and the instructor asked all of us a novel and provoking question: “What’s your epitaph after death?” I thought twice and gave my answer: “To burn passion for an admirable cause.” This answer aligns with the goal I chose before entering the college, which refers to a sentence from a Chinese writer Zhiyuan Xu: “Students learn from the books in the high school. When they enter the college, they should broaden their vision and learn from everywhere.” I did follow this goal in my early college life. Taking core courses from different majors, seeking advice from seniors and graduates who already launched their careers, and reflecting on myself about my interest, passion, strength, and weakness. I was looking for that “admirable cause”, but my comfort zone was still restricted in the group of Chinese international students. I don’t think this is a wrong decision, since as a young girl living in China and immersed in the Chinese culture for 18 years, it is a natural instinct of sheltering within a group sharing the same culture and speaking the same language in a totally foreign land. Well, the trade-off is that, when my friends and I went out for lunch on Saturday and met people congregating somewhere on campus, we had no clue what was going on and therefore missed lots of interesting and meaningful events. Staying in the America but not living as an American. That’s a pity and even a waste of the opportunity and financial input of studying in the US.
I was fortunate to meet Mr. Yan and participate in this Presidential Youth Leadership Initiative to fill the gap of “learning from everywhere” in the American society and liberate myself from the mindset towards US and its social manners. The past two weeks were filled with events. The schedule was tight, and our lunchtime has been shrunk, but this continuous series of activities made a great use of the time for us to have abundant political, cultural, and occupational experience. I divided what I learned from these activities into three major categories: career, culture, and personal character/life philosophy.
In Iowa and nearby states including Nebraska, North and South Dakota, we visited various institutions and companies, from large and international ones to small startups. Kemin Industries is “a global company transforming the quality of life”. It is an ingredient supplier in animal and human nutrition and health, biofuels, crop and food technologies, and so on. As a large-scale company, Kemin burdens its responsibility of protecting the environment and implementing sustainability while utilizing the natural resources to expedite the production. Supply chain is a crucial part in Kemin’s business, and it pays attention to the safety and quality in the supply chain by conducting testing before real manufacturing. For example, when touring the Kemin headquarter office, we were introduced the pilot lab and plant micropropagation lab, in which the production of products was scaled up here before being put into manufacturing or planting in the green house. In addition to research and development, Kemin also focuses on its service development to establish its brand and maintain good relationships with customers. Interestingly, digitalization is involved in its product service, in which the levels of the liquid product in the tank would be monitored by an equipment from Kemin. Once the product is running out, the equipment will notify to refill it.
Kemin also values the diversity and inclusion. Its business spans seven countries and areas, and to betoken cultures from the offices around the world, some meeting rooms in the headquarter were named after these countries and decorated with totem from that country, and even the walls of bathrooms are painted with the totem. This decoration is surprising, and it is a way of emphasizing the company culture of diversity and reminds employees of the international groups in Kemin. I fortunately had a chance to have a brief talk with the Executive Assistant, and her decent manner of talking and exhaustive understanding of the business and culture in Kemin impressed me. She mentioned that she has remote meeting every day with other assistants in Paris and India, though they have never seen each other in person, and to coordinate the time difference, she starts working at 7 am for the meeting. We can see that before the covid pandemic interrupted the in-person working settings, international companies like Kemin already adapted the remote working, and covid just verified that remote working is implementable and expedite the process of people accepting it. In this way, though wars and diseases disrupted the economy and endangered lives, they are also the critical turning points to push the human development forward.
The visit to Des Moines Area Community College (DMACC) refreshes my impression on the community college. My previous understanding of the community college is a transition stage from high school to four-year college, but from the speech of the president of DMACC, I learned that the mission of the community college is career oriented and much more cost-effective than the university. University focuses on the research, but community college puts more efforts in teaching and developing skills needed in the work. Famous companies like Facebook and Goldman Sachs collaborate with DMACC to offer certificates to students, which are strong portfolios to make students stand out in the job application. I previously assumed that only students with not satisfactory grades would enter DMACC, but ignored other facts like low tuition fees, work oriented. The high-school graduates can launch their careers by attending the CC first, and they would still have chance to have a higher education by transferring to the college. The goal of finding a job can also be met in a more cost-effective way. The life story of the president is also inspiring. He was a truck driver and then studied political science in the Iowa State University. He later went to law school and became an attorney before joining the DMACC. The life path is never determined if one eager to change it.
We also visited the Kimberly Farm which was visited by President Xi in 2012. Rick Kimberly, the owner of the farm, told us the story of Xi’s visit, in which Xi came up to a tractor and stayed in the Kimberly’s home for a while. As for the reason President Xi picked the Kimberly Farm, Rick listed several reasons. First, the Kimberly farm is now highly mechanized, comparing to farms in China mainly cultivated by farmers. Also, it is a multi-generational farm, in which Rick is the 6th generation, and soybean is the major crop. These are features related to Chinese farms. Some add-ons may be that the farm is clean, and Rick is a good communicator, features most farms and farmers don’t have. A funny part of the visit is that President Xi should not climb to the tractor due to the potential danger, but Rick still invited him to do so. Maybe due to the happiness, President agreed and a memorable picture of Rick and President Xi sitting together in the tractor was taken, which was a strong promotion for the Kimberly farm as well. Sometimes, breaking the rule can bring an unexpected result.
As the undergraduate life approaches to the end, searching for job opportunities is a crucial stage. An important lesson that university teaches students is that opportunities won’t come to you automatically, and you have to search and seize it with all the efforts and a little good luck. With a goal of finding a job in a great company in Chicago, Hanson and Chason, sons of Swallow, were working really hard towards it. Since companies in Chicago would prefer students studying in Chicago first instead of Iowa, they have to build networks in advance to make themselves stand out. This made me reflect on my past fall recruitment season. I was following the trend: attending the career fair, talking with the recruiters, submitting my resume, and waiting for the response. However, I missed the early timing and didn’t break the rule to get my foot in the door, which I should improve next time. Career is a lifelong journey. You may choose your pursuit with an instinct in the early 20s, and you may take a risk to discard the settled path eventually, but these are our own best decisions at that moment. All we need to do is to figure out how to achieve your current goal.
Experiencing the American culture is the second part of this journey. The George Floyd Square in Minnesota memorizes the Black Lives Matter movement. The Raised Fist Sculpture, the Black-and-White Mural, and the “Say Their Names Cemetery” with 150 headstone markers for the people of color killed by the police are all representative art in memory of the protest for the racial injustice. The art exhibition is an aesthetic way to depict the world, convey a message, and revoke a resonance. The art gallery and sculptures in the University of Nebraska and the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden are the art culture representations of the campus and city. The capitols in Minnesota and Nebraska are great ways to personally experience the political work in the state. Not only the capitol presents the history of the city and contributors of the capitol design, it is also the workplace of important officers and is open for the public to attend the hearings of passing bills and visit the governor office. One moment is really touching when we audited a financial bill hearing, an Asian congresswoman waved to us. Maybe it’s due to that we Asian people seldom attend such event, and she felt surprised and happy to see us. The Farmers Market is like Jishi in China, where vendors sell fresh food and decorations. Due to its large flow of customers, some non-profit organizations would attend to promote the program, so it would be a great opportunity to know new people and look for volunteer opportunities to serve the community. Some successful leaders in the company may work part-time in the organization, so it’s a great opportunity for networking too.
It’s also interesting to observe different parenting styles in the American and Chinese families. American parents encourage and praise their children more, comparing to Chinese parents who set strict rules. For example, the younger girl in my host family is naughty. When she heard that her mom cut too much of the kitty’s nail and the kitty even can’t walk, she shouted at her mom about her behavior and told her that she should not have done that. If Chinese parents watched their child act like this, they would most likely criticize him for being rude. However, the mother in my host family didn’t do so, and instead, she was proud of her speaking for the animal and gave her a high-five. The mother’s response was surprising to me and made me realize that American style of education values people’s voices and encourages the independence, which is rooted in the western culture.
The last thought-provoking part that I learned is the personal character from the speakers. We had a seminar with three professors in the department of industrial and manufacturing engineering at the Iowa State University. Two professors shared that they were once confused and undecided about their future, and the major they studied during the undergraduate was different from the research field they are currently in. Therefore, it is normal to change the future direction, and it is especially easier to change for 20s because we have more opportunities. Also, life is the process of finding passion. Career is not like a job, which is to sustain the living. Career is the thing that we eager to put all our efforts into and enjoy the value it creates. Dr. Lang Deng shared his observations and thoughts when living in the US. He noticed that in the workplace, Indian people applause for other’s success and take it as an honor of themselves, but Chinese people envy the peers’ achievements. I wouldn’t judge this pattern since living in a different culture and society would lead to a different notion and habit. The severely competitive situation may exacerbate the dissatisfaction when one is falling behind. Dr. Deng is also an expert in history and geography. His interest in these subjects had led him to learn beyond the classroom and read tons of books. This made me to reflect that I should read more books in my specialty and interested areas to broaden the vision and deepen the knowledge.
At last, Mr. Ron Anderson, the CEO and co-founder of the A&K Development Co, shared his life philosophy with us. During his student life, hez aspired to build a company where people from all over the world would come to buy his products. All his roommates were laughing at his daydream, but they had never known that Ron indeed achieved it. It’s important to have a clear goal in mind and work hard towards it. Also, he told us that the investment in oneself is always profitable because what you learned is always in my mind and nobody can steal it. These are all life philosophies that I learned and would like to implement and incorporate in my future career and life.
To conclude, during this two-week leadership program, I mainly learned from three aspects: career, culture, and character. The value and business in the companies and institutions, American culture, history, and architecture embodied in the building design, sculptures, capitol, and life philosophies from these successful leaders really refreshed my mindset and made me reflect my past experience and incorporate these lessons in my future career and life.