James Mal and Jacob Malulani Lum

James Mal and Jacob Malulani Lum didn’t expect to shake hands with a billionaire during their internship at Özyegin University in Turkey last summer. The two chemical engineering seniors knew that Hüsnü M. Özyegin (’67 Civil Engineering) was an Oregon State alumnus and had founded the gleaming private university they attended in Istanbul, but they had not expected to meet him in person.  

Lum and Mal were two of the first three students to be selected for the inaugural Hüsnü Özyegin Internship exchange between the two universities. While attending a graduation ceremony, a student interpreter and tour guide invited them to meet their benefactor. When they were introduced, Özyegin extended his hand warmly and said, “I’m so happy you could come here. I loved my time at Oregon State, and I hope you have a good time here.” Before they parted, he smiled and said, “Go Beavs!”

Recalling his meeting with the wealthiest man in Turkey, Mal said, “I don’t expect to become a billionaire. Not many of us will end up in that place, but getting to shake his hand added a little bit of reality to the possibility.”

Transformative education

Mal was the first to learn of the new internship. Walking across campus one day, an engineering school advisor, Kristin Rorrer, told him about it. Mal shared the opportunity with Lum and in late June they joined Jaden Diefenbaugh, a computer science major at Oregon State, for the long flights from Portland to Istanbul.

The Hüsnü Özyegin Internship is part of a growing international partnership between the schools. The exchange aligns with the Oregon State’s goal of offering students transformative educational experiences that give them a strong technical foundation and global consciousness.

For Lum and Mal, the transformation began with a 3-hour Friday-rush-hour taxi crawl through Istanbul from the airport to the university.

“I had never seen such an unbelievable mass of people,” recalled Lum, who was born in Hawaii and moved to Oregon at age nine when his father, Tod Lum  (’83) secured a job as a wildlife biologist in Roseburg.

Mal was simultaneously taken aback and excited by the thronging streets of the international city. He was born in Portland and grew up in Gresham, where his father, Louie Mal (’86) is a CPA.

During the week, Mal and Lum worked in the lab of professor Bahar Basim. Mal focused his research on an advanced technique for polishing silicon wafers in the manufacture of computer chips. Lum’s lab investigation applied microencapsulated essential oils onto fabric, which could improve water- and tick-repelling clothing.

Their weekends turned into off-the-grid excursions into old Istanbul, where they had no cell phone coverage. It was everything their professors and advisors back in Corvallis had hoped for them: exciting, mind expanding, often disconcerting, occasionally scary, and always challenging to their middle-class American sensibilities.

Transformation squared

After the internship — after that handshake with Özyegin — Mal and Lum’s academic transformation was greatly enhanced by personal transformation. Instead of returning to Corvallis, both used the internship as a springboard for a month of travel in Europe.

Mal’s parents, who fled Romania when it was an Eastern Bloc country controlled by the Soviet Union, flew to Europe to rendezvous with their son and take him on a tour of their homeland.

“My parents hadn’t been back for years,” said Mal. “We visited my mother’s old house and stayed with her aunt. Then we spent two and a half weeks driving through Germany, Austria, Slovenia, Italy, and Switzerland.”

As a result, Mal had the opportunity to fully appreciate his family’s heritage.

“I am so glad I got to see where my family is from — our origins,” he said. “It would have been interesting to go there by myself, but I’m thankful that my parents were there to talk about what everything meant to them, in the place they were attached to for so long.”

Lum, the small-town boy from Roseburg, embarked on an engineering pilgrimage. He signed up on the Couch Surfing website, stuck out his thumb, and hitchhiked across Europe to Cambridge University to see Isaac Newton’s master work, the Principia.

Lum launched his adventure with a ferry ride to the idyllic Greek islands of Santorini and Ios. After falling asleep on the way to Ios, he found himself stranded on the small island of Folegandros, where the island community was celebrating the Assumption of Virgin Mary. It seemed the entire populace turned out for traditional food, songs, dance, and barrels of drink. Lum ate for free, drank his fill, and joined in the circle dances.

His charmed path took him on to Athens, Rome, Naples, Venice, and Florence, where he was surprised to see Galileo’s middle finger on display in a science museum. He flew to Spain, arriving in Valencia just in time for the most famous food fight in the world.

“It’s called La Tomatino,” Lum explained, smiling at the memory. “They tarp off the main alleyway through town. Everyone packs into the street, waiting for the arrival of dump trucks full of tomatoes. When the trucks dump the tomatoes, everyone starts throwing them. It is like a river of marinara in the street. I don’t know how my cell phone survived!”

A tomato storm is the least likely place to make a business contact, but in the middle of the melee, Lum met an English man in a red-stained business suit, who was in Valencia for a bachelor party. He works for BP (formerly British Petroleum) in London, and he gave Lum his name and email address.

Bunking in youth hostels and on couches, sleeping in train stations and airports, Lum continued north on his Newtonian pilgrimage: Barcelona, Paris, Amsterdam, and London at last.

“I took the train to Cambridge. I saw the apple tree that Isaac Newton was supposedly sitting under when he first questioned the existence of gravity. I saw his book, the Principia. It was powerful to see something so old and monumental for human thinking just inches from my face,” Lum said.   

His pilgrimage complete and his Euros spent, Lum booked a return flight, compliments of the Hüsnü Özyegin Internship.

“Traveling has truly been the most addicting experience I have ever had,” Lum said thoughtfully. “It taught me what it means to live in the moment. It gave me a strong sense of cross-cultural sensitivity and self-awareness of my own unique culture. I want to work in another country and incorporate travel into my daily life.”

Lum has messaged everyone he met in his travels, asking about positions and openings. His most hopeful message went to the tomato slinging Brit in the business suit, back in BP’s home office in London.

Neither Lum nor Mal expects to become a billionaire or international educational philanthropist, but meeting Özyegin in person and taking advantage of the opportunity to be exposed to the wider world has profoundly changed them both. Shaking Özyegin’s hand and realizing that he was once just like them — an ambitious engineering student making his way in a new and unfamiliar land — has opened their minds to new possibilities.

“Go Beavs!”

To read Hüsnü  Özyegin’s remarkable life story, see his cover profile in the Oregon Stater:  http://www.osualum.com/s/359/file_lib/1/43/00_02_2027_ozyegin_634812459225308722.pdf.

— Warren Volkmann

Published Date: 
Wednesday, December 31, 2014