Meet Doha. Doha Amer is a current first-year student at the University of Illinois at Urbana- Champaign, in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering within the Grainger College of Engineering. During the academic year 2018-2019, Doha was a member of the KAUST KGSP Foundation Year cohort at Illinois.
From 2017 to present, GET has hosted three individual cohorts of students from the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST): Gifted Student Program (KGSP) program, for each academic year. Learn about GET's involvment with the KGSP program.
Doha shares her experiences below - in KGSP and at Illinois.
From Saudi to Urbana-Champaign: Welcome Home
There is a sense of security and comfort in knowing which bus to take, where to go for lunch - and what to order-, where the peanut butter shelves at the supermarket are, and who to call for a SafeWalk after a late-night study session at the library.
It was quite unusual to feel this familiar on my first day of freshman year, especially as an international student seven thousand miles away from home. The truth is: although I am not a townie, freshman year is not my first year in Urbana-Champaign. Among 13 other Saudi Arabian students, I spent a structured gap year at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign from August 2018 to May 2019.
This gap year program, also known as a Foundation Year Program, was one of six similar programs for KAUST (King Abdullah University for Science and Engineering Gifted Student Program (KGSP) participants. The goal of these programs is to support students in submitting competitive college applications to gain admission to top U.S. universities and prepare them academically for undergraduate study through university-level coursework in science, math, and writing.
What was special about my experience was that I was one of the few students who now attend the same school they spent their gap year at.
Little fish, big pond
In a school of more than 40,000 students, it is easy to feel like the smallest fish in the ocean. In contrast, it is also likely that you'll find people with similar mindsets and interests.
The gap year was the perfect time to connect with the Saudi Student Association and the existing KGSP community at Illinois. However, knowing that there are more than 1,800 student organizations, I had to get out of my comfort zone and try something new. I ended up trying fencing and joining a recycling club.
Foundation for Success
A fellow KGSPer, Nadia Almutlak, gave me a piece of advice. She said, "There are two things you'll have to learn as an engineer:
- Time Management
- How to ask for help
Both sound easy, but they're harder than you might think."
Knowing what resources are available for me made asking for help a lot easier. Similarly, going to office hours during during my Foundation Year made it a lot easier this year to go to office hours. Moreover, taking calculus and writing classes set me up for success in these subjects.
My favorite part of the experience, however, was enrolling into an actual class at Illinois: Physics 101. Taking this course gave me a scoop of what large lectures are like, what discussion and lab sections are about, how to deal with CBTF (Computer-Based Testing Facility) anxiety, and how much work goes into a 5 credit hour course.
Throughout Foundation Year, I had bi-weekly check-in calls and surveys with my KGSP advisor. These check-in calls and surveys were my opportunity to reflect on my academic performance and my state of well-being and communicate my concerns to my advisor.
Most importantly, they trained me to ask the right questions about how I am doing. Throughout my first semester of college, I found myself still asking these questions:
- Which area do you feel is the most challenging for you right now?
- What is the best thing that has happened the past 2 weeks?
- Are there any courses in which you feel you need tutoring for?
- Which area of well-being do you feel is strongest for you right now?
Asking and answering these questions have helped me take action when I needed to.
Want to learn more about the KGSP Foundation Year experience?