by Alex Z. Salinas (B.A. ’11)
One of the biggest challenges international college students face, among living in a new country, is finding internships.
Generally speaking, companies and organizations hesitate to hire interns if they aren’t U.S. citizens. Some won’t hire international students at all.
So when Industrial Engineering graduate students Ali Aljubran (M.S. ’17) and Jassim Albinali (M.S. ’17) obtained summer internships in 2016 with the Texas Diaper Bank and Meals on Wheels, respectively, it was a big deal.
“We’ve always had internationals who manage to get an internship, but that’s usually done through partnerships we’ve developed,” said Rafael Moras, Ph.D., Professor of Industrial Engineering. “With Ali and Jassim, it was different; they did it on their own. They knocked on doors, with accents and all, and talked to unknown people. If you can imagine, that’s a very brave and hard thing to do.”
Aljubran recalled all the driving he did.
“I went to the malls, to the hospitals, to factories, to transportation companies, to grocery stores. It was a lot,” he said.
When Aljubran and Albinali were hired for their internships — at the same time, coincidentally — they were both asked to put together a team of four people. The Saudi Arabian natives then selected students from their classes who they wanted to work with — all international students — representing the Middle East, Africa and Mexico.
For Albinali, who said he is a “naturally shy person,” working with others in the real world taught him valuable lessons.
“It taught me how to manage a team workload and work with different kinds of people,” he said.
Aljubran’s work with the Texas Diaper Bank involved implementing an inventory control system, while Albinali’s efforts with Meals on Wheels consisted of helping improve the facility’s floor layouts. As industrial engineers, their task was to improve processes and systems that can save time and money and prevent workplace accidents.
While their internships took place over the summer, they incorporated their research into their yearlong Engineering senior design projects.
Aljubran said he enjoyed applying concepts he learned in classes at St. Mary’s University, such as on forecasting and quality control, “to analyze and implement data” to improve operations at the Texas Diaper Bank.
Moras was awestruck when he found out about Aljubran’s and Albinali’s summer internships upon their return to classes their final year, especially that they were able to give their fellow international classmates valuable work experience.
“Theirs is the story of persistence and hard work, of what you can accomplish if you have the right mindset,” Moras said. “As an educator, this is a most satisfying experience.”
For Albinali, breaking out of his shell at St. Mary’s was something that surprised him in hindsight.
“The people here were very friendly to me. I made friends with people from around the world. I also enjoyed being taught by professors from around the world and having the freedom to discuss ideas in classes,” he said.
Aljubran, who described himself as a “social person,” said he was happy to just have the close relationships with faculty that he couldn’t have at his previous university.
“I came from somewhere with 28,000 students,” he said. “Some classes had 200 students. Here, there were 15 to 20 students per class. The professors had the time to explain things well and to get to know our names. They worried and cared about us.”
Ozgur Aktunc, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Software Engineering, who also taught Aljubran and Albinali along with Moras, said he believes the two have “started something.”
“They set a precedent for other international students to follow, and we can now always point to them as examples,” he said.