Meet Assel Aryn and Kuanysh Abeshev. As Bolashak International Scholarship recipients, Assel and Kuanysh are scholars and educators from Almaty Management University (AlmaU) in Kazakhstan, which is among the top universities in KZ/Central Asia per the QS World University Rankings. They are top leaders at AlmaU: Assel serves as the Vice-Rector, and Kuanysh serves as the Dean of the School of Engineering Management, respectively.
During their six months of instruction and study at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, Assel and Kuanysh have been charged with developing strategies and best practices that will increase and enhance online instruction at AlmaU.
On getting connected internationally
Assel: Did you know in Kazakhstan, there is huge value in having an international degree, and in international education? I have never studied abroad. I did my bachelor's degree, master's degree, and Ph.D. in Kazakhstan. I used to say, "I am made in Kazakhstan!" I have been made at Almaty Management University. This is my first international experience.
Assel: Our colleagues introduced us to Matt and Rob [GET Director Matt Rosenstein and GET Assistant Director Rob Marinelli], and we started to create our program. We were in touch from the first day, and it was easy to work with the whole team.
Kuanysh: Rob and Matt are really great guys. They have really helped us. Rob is like our uncle and best friend: he asks how we are, and he keeps in touch with us.
On their specialized research topics and areas of interest
Assel: My Ph.D. topic is financing higher education in Kazakhstan, and I am comparing the Kazakhstani experience in financing higher education and the U.S. system. The main difference between Kazakhstan and the U.S. is that the U.S. has different types of financial support for students, like financial aid. Student loans are very developed in your country. I want to create a model of student loans for Kazakhstan because I want to create another model of financial aid for Kazakhstani students.
Kuanysh: Mainly, I am interested in IT, computer science, how the faculty at the University of Illinois are teaching math and programming courses. What are the kinds of projects? How are they adding students to the projects? How are they creating different start-ups? I am thinking about what kinds of experiences we can learn from [UIUC faculty] to take to our country. And I am also learning new tools and technologies about online courses.
How will you utilize what you’ve learned at UIUC to apply back to Alma U?
Assel: We have three main goals.
- The first goal is to improve our English. We have been trying to meet people and communicate with them, to improve our speaking skills.
- The second goal is to develop online learning at AlmaU. We are learning new technologies, teaching methods, and how online learning is organized at UIUC, to create a model of blended and online learning for our university.
- The third goal is to gain resources for new strategic plans and build new online programs.
On working with UIUC faculty mentors
Assel: The best thing is that we can utilize all of the opportunities available for students and faculty members. As students, we have taken courses; as faculty members, we have participated in different workshops and seminars for faculty members. We work closely with our mentor, Cheelan Bo-Linn. She's a really great person.
Kuanysh: She's amazing, she's amazing!
Assel: She's so active and full of energy. She gets us involved in all of the programs for faculty members. We feel like real students and faculty members here at UIUC. We have met faculty here, and we want to become partners with them. Now, we see that we can create projects together. We want to create global projects and have a global classroom with UIUC students and Kazakhstani students.
During the faculty retreat, one of the presenters talked about their global classroom project, and it’s really interesting because we have similar courses, similar disciplines, and we can create this global classroom. Kazakhstani students and U.S. students can work together, and that’s a great experience for all students.
The future of higher education in Kazakhstan
Assel: Our university at home is very proactive because we are private, and we don't have funds from the government. We are really here to contribute to the betterment of the university. We are a young university team and motivated to engage globally. In 2012, 29 staff and faculty members came to the U.S. on this program in California. That group created a model for the entrepreneurial university and that changed how our institution worked. We became a benchmark for other universities in Kazakhstan, and we want that to grow.
Kuanysh: Our university helps prepare good specialists in the field. We teach in three languages. 30 percent of students are studying in English.
Assel: That's part of why we wanted to come to UIUC because it is integrated into its community. UIUC tries to build a really strong community with so many organizations, events, and other opportunities for students. These events that we participated in were really designed for the community. Communication from the chancellor and leadership help feel like they are creating a warm relationship which is very different.
In Kazakhstan, there is a big gap between students and faculty, but at UIUC we noticed a greater connection. We need strong partners for our university, like GET. We are also thinking about growing partnerships that benefit our faculty. We want to become a hub in Central Asia for all students and impact the broader region.
Thanks, Assel and Kuanysh!