American University of Central Asia - AUCA - SPOTLIGHTS


Kumar Sharshembiev

Professor of Software Engineering Department

KUMAR SHARSHEMBIEV – an alumnus of Old Dominion University (Norfolk, VA), one of the best universities in the world, graduated with a bachelor’s in computer engineering. He also received his master’s from ODU. After graduation, he was invited to stay in the US, but he decided to return home to support his country of birth. Kumar is a talented software engineer who currently teaches at the American University in Central Asia.

-        You are a graduate of the one of the best universities in the U.S. Please tell us how you decided to go to this university.

-          I graduated from the physics and mathematics-focused School #61 in Bishkek. I gained good knowledge there. While I was a senior there, my parents and I started to think about which university I’d attend. We examined Russian and Turkish universities. We recalled that my English teacher said that I have good English language skills (I loved this subject in school, and I did my best to learn it). He advised me to apply to an American university. His advice convinced me. I talked with parents, and it was decided that I would go to the US.

-          What university did you choose?

-          After long discussions with my parents, I chose Old Dominion University. I applied to a TOEFL preparation program in Almaty, sent all the necessary documents, and set out to Virginia. Entrance exams weren’t hard for me, as the main subject was mathematics. Since I graduated from a mathematics-focused high school, it was a snap. University advisors suggested I join the software engineering program, so I did.

-          Tell us about this university. Was it difficult to study there?

-          The Department of Software Engineering was one of the best and most prestigious departments at the university. A number of alumni are employed at NASA, as well as branches of the US military. Yes, it was difficult to study, because I had a heavy course load. I had no time to be bored. It should be noted that students in this department were really strong.

-          Tell us about your impressions of student life.

-          First year is easy. During this period, you determine in what direction you want to go. Classes become more difficult after the second year, but you can pick them yourself. At the same time, you have to remember that you are choosing a career. I knew a lot of American students for whom software engineering is their element. They are totally absorbed in it. We could spend 24 hours a day studying the topic, but nobody made us do it. Sure, it was necessary to study, but really, we just liked it. About 80 students, including myself, studied by choice in that department. We made it.

-          What difficulties did you encounter?

-          I think that software engineering is creative work. You should have different approaches to studying. Patience and assiduity are needed because you have to sit for hours and develop complex programs and algorithms. I want to say again that we had so much work, and were so excited by it, that we didn’t have much time to spend off campus. It was quite normal for us to spend hours working.

-          OK, did you have any days off? How did you spend your free time?

-          In my sophomore year, I started to work at the university. There was a team of students that operated the university’s computer system. I had friends on this team. I also communicated with students from other departments, not only with my classmates. Sometimes, we traveled in our free time. Our university was located in the American South, so sometimes we would take trips to northern states. I wanted to visit other places. We went to ski-resorts. Our holidays were always active.

-          You studied outside of Kyrgyzstan. Can you make a comparison? What are the differences between the Kyrgyz and American education systems?

-          The main difference with the American education is that you can take elective courses. Of course, there are required courses too, but even then you can select one of ten different classes to meet your requirement. All courses are filtered. I’m sure this system is good. I think that is the main difference.

-          You know, of course, that corruption is rampant in the Kyrgyzstani education system and that this prevents us from training highly skilled specialists. Were you faced with corruption in America?

-          American faculty members have good salaries. Government pays attention to education and science. There weren’t any cases where students gave bribes. That would be absurd. At most, students can cheat. Nothing more. If student fails a course, he or she repeats the year. Students can continue getting an education as long as necessary, providing her or she can pay for it. Everyone understands that education is the future. You can’t do anything in America without education. Americans choose their profession deliberately. It’s almost a spiritual choice.  In America, people go to universities to get knowledge, and not for a certificate or diploma.

-          Tell us about the hiring process in America. Here in Kyrgyzstan, we must present a CV.

-          CV’s are not ruled out, but the main requirement is knowledge. For example, software engineers have four stage interview-tests. You have to answer questions, then develop programs. Naturally, an employer will check your diploma, it is also important, but they give priority to your skills and knowledge.

-          You did well in your studies. Were you tempted to stay in America?

-          You know, my fear of coming home and becoming a misfit was stronger than the temptation to live abroad. I was afraid that I wouldn’t achieve my goals. I know a lot of Kyrgyz guys who are studying and working in America. All of them want to return, but they have the same problem - fear. However, life in America is completely different and expensive. All nice things require money and effort. For instance, companies often ask their staffs to work until 9 or even 11 at night. Our citizens are not aware of how hard it is to live and work in the U.S.

There needs to be investment in youth. This investment is the future of every country. Corruption must be eradicated. Young people should enter to university to gain knowledge, not to get a diploma. Our nation has a lot of talented sons and daughters.

-          Did you have plans when you decided to return home?

-          I had some offers in Kyrgyzstan. I also wanted to come back. I learned in America that I wanted to teach and do research. After graduation, I badly wanted to join the faculty at AUCA. There isn’t corruption like you find at other Kyrgyz universities. The American University has a good reputation among students and faculty. Furthermore, the university strives for a high level of education; adheres to a principle of freedom of expression; has a serious approach to study and academic honesty. Taking all this into consideration, my decision was obvious.

-          What can you say about the faculty at AUCA?

-          When I decided to work in AUCA, I sent an application from America. After only a few days, I had a Skype-interview. This demonstrates the degree of seriousness with which the university regards its employees. The university’s hiring policy grants equal access to applicants to all vacancies. Race, ethnicity, gender, religion, nationality, age, political views or personal relations don’t influence hiring. AUCA does as much as possible to create favorable conditions for professional advancement and to help realize the potential of all members of the university community.

-          How would you describe the atmosphere at AUCA?

-          I think that students, faculty and staff, come to university everyday with the desire to achieve definite goals. The atmosphere in the university is favorable to that. Everyone shows goodwill to one another. The distinguishing feature of AUCA is diversity. Young people from more than 20 countries study here. Our students represent diverse cultures, languages, religions, physical capabilities and opinions. Everyone who enters to the campus feels the positive energy that pervades the university.

-          Tell us about your plans for the future.

-          I want to take on more difficult classes, and not just for the third year. I’m looking hard at students, and I plan to create a team. I want to create a team to create automated systems like those on cellular devices. I’ve only been in Kyrgyzstan for two months. I hope that all my work from now on will be related to software engineering. If I meet people who support my ideas, even students, and who have the desire and skills to do something, this will help me to realize achieve my goals.

-          What must Kyrgyzstan do in terms of development?

I’m sure that education is the key to the country’s development. There needs to be investment in youth. This investment is the future of every nation. Corruption must be eradicated. Young people should enter to university to gain knowledge, not to get a diploma. Our nation has a lot of talented sons and daughters. They are strong. I want to restate that a student’s desire to study is most important in choosing a degree. Last year, AUCA began a unique project to give talented young people from low-income families an opportunity to take part in an innovative training program to prepare for entrance into the university. This project is called the New Generation Academy (NGA). After completing the program, young men and women can apply to AUCA, and the strongest candidate can get a scholarship. In 20 years, more than 2,000 students have graduated from AUCA. I can say with confidence that AUCA alumni are in demand in the job market. They hold leading positions in the government and the academic community. There are also successful, well-known businessmen among AUCA alumni; many of who love to help their alma mater. In spite the fact that AUCA alumni can find work all over the world, most of them are ready and willing to work and live in Kyrgyzstan.


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American University of Central Asia
7/6 Aaly Tokombaev Street
Bishkek, Kyrgyz Republic 720060

Tel.: +996 (312) 915000 + Еxt.
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