When Ainur Nygmet enrolled at Oregon State in 2014, she was the university's only female student from the 24-year-old country of Kazakhstan. She is now well on the road to becoming an Oregon State Engineer.
Nursultan Nazarbayev, president of Kazakhstan, has invested heavily in developing an exclusive and competitive educational system for the country’s best and brightest, with the goal of fostering economic growth. Nygmet did exceptionally well in the Nazarbayev Intellectual Schools, which are strongly geared toward math and science. As a 12-year-old, she studied physics and math at a level typically taught to college students in the United States.
After completing her studies at the Nazarbayev Intellectual Schools, she considered her options for higher education. She could have continued studying math and science with an international faculty at Nazarbayev University, tuition-free. But the prospect felt too constraining for Nygmet, so she started pursuing other options.
“I wanted a new experience, and I learned that OSU is one of only two universities in America sponsored to do research as a land, sea, sun, and space grant institution,” said Nygmet.
She also learned that Oregon State offered several other advantages aligned with her goals. Not only could she apply her strong math and science skills in the College of Engineering, but she could augment her studies with undergraduate research.
“I found new opportunities for doing research as an undergraduate in robotics,” said Nygmet. “In Kazakhstan, the opportunity to be a part of research is usually for graduate students.”
In the fall of 2014, she came to Oregon State as a freshman pursuing mechanical engineering.
Although she certainly experienced culture shock in moving to a new country and a new educational system, it didn’t take Nygmet long to get involved in the undergraduate research that lured her here. Now a sophomore, she works with Ross Hatton, assistant professor of mechanical engineering and director of the Laboratory for Robotics and Applied Mechanics, studying spider web vibrations.
“Spiders have poor vision, so when a fly gets stuck in its web, it uses the vibrations on the web to move to the fly. We are trying to make a prototype of this system,” said Nygmet. As a step toward designing robotic functionality, the overall goal of the spider web research is to develop useful models for the vibration of networks of strings and to the extend the models into the realm of biology.
Although Nygmet doesn’t see herself working in a lab her entire career, she appreciates what the experience is providing.
“I think doing robotics research is a very good experience for me as an international student,” she said, “because I have the ability to work with different kinds of people from around the world.”
She also appreciates the ability to feed her creative side.
“I’m not just an engineer,” she said. “I’m involved in poetry, too. I think when art and science come together…it’s magic.”
Nygmet’s ability to draw on nontechnical strengths in pursuit of her engineering degree is a defining characteristic of the Oregon State Engineer, and having the freedom to do so was a big part of the draw for her to come here.
“Without imagination, you can’t do anything,” she said. “Here, I mix my interests with my school. In Kazakhstan, I wouldn’t be able to do the same thing.”
Nygmet plans to study abroad for a term, and is considering pursuing an MBA to round out her education. She believes that these experiences will have a profound impact on her effectiveness as an engineer who is engaged in the world of business.
— Krista Klinkhammer