Student Profile: Scarlett Ong Rui Chern

Four years ago, Scarlett Ong Rui Chern moved to the United States to pursue higher education at the University of Michigan – Stephen M. Ross School of Business. As an international and first generation student, she faced many hurdles. One advantage she lacked was a peer support system to help her navigate the college experience. Talking to other students helped Scarlett realize that she wasn’t the only one needing help. International students, transfer students, and even first-year American students faced many of the the same problems.

Reflecting on those struggles and with the help of three other students, Scarlett decided to take a leap of faith. She developed an education technology that could assist students with their academic struggles and provide the peer support that she missed. That is how Peerstachio was birthed!

Peerstachio is a peer-to-peer learning social networking platform which helps students improve their grades by connecting underclassmen with trusted upperclassmen, getting them the academic help they need in a responsive way. The platform offers students academic interactions, boosts their credentials, reinforces learning, and gives access to a trusted community of peers.

Since its creation in 2017, Scarlett and her team have received support through various grants including the Zell Lurie Institute Grant  which provided Peerstachio the head start it needed to get the platform off the ground. Peerstachio also received a University of Michigan Student Innovation and Entrepreneurship Grant to continue working on developing their startup.

This summer Peerstacio was selected to be a part of the 2018 Summer Cohort of the DTX  Launch Accelerator Program at TechTown Detroit. The program was sponsored by General Motors and Peerstachio took home the pitch competition grand prize of $10,000. “We came in with this broad idea where we wanted to serve all international students but we learned a more structured way to do it and test our hypothesis and really refined our target market.” – says Scarlett. “I am so proud of my team for the job well done … We put in a lot of work during those 10 weeks. I pray this becomes something long term!”

With the assistance of the TechTown technical team Peerstachio will be tested officially in two courses at the University of Michigan in the coming fall semester!

Global Detroit is in the process of launching a Global Entrepreneurs-in-Residence (Global EIR) program to help international student entrepreneurs launch their companies here in Michigan without encountering visa problems. Scarlett Ong Rui Chern is one of the  first sets of founder applicants in the Global EIR program. If the program selects Peerstachio, Global EIR will help Scarlett and other immigrant and international student founders launch their startups in Southeast Michigan by providing visa support and other services that enables them to fully explore their venture’s initial phases or structure their startup in ways that further the educational mission of a Michigan-based university.

By providing leading-edge programs like the Global Talent Retention Initiative and the Global EIR opportunity, Global Detroit is leveraging the contributions that talented international students represent for our region. A more inclusive regional economy can not only attract new firms like Peerstachio that are launching, but it can retain talented international students like Scarlett who will surely be an asset to job creation wherever she lands.

Student Profile: Bianca Garcia

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A Different Perspective on the International Experience

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As a senior at Grosse Pointe South High School, with supportive parents and solid grades, I was overwhelmed by the array of college and university options at my disposal. College trips and information sessions not only seemed to blur, but they left me yearning for an experience somehow more diverse, cosmopolitan, and global. After making the difficult decision to attend the University of Toronto, I knew I had made the right choice for my education and my future. However I wasn’t fully aware of the complications I was going to face down the road. Everything from health insurance to finalizing my study visa to registering for classes was quite the process. Of course I was mentally prepared to overcome the typical adversity any university student could expect, but some of the issues I was faced with were quite unexpected.  Despite the difficulties, I was able to take the experiences of my first year and learn from them. While some of the lessons were quite straightforward (i.e. my health coverage only works in certain places, loan money is disbursed at different times for American students, and I need my student ID to stay in the library after hours) some lessons were much more difficult to learn. I found it easy to adapt to the environment to do the best I could to live efficiently, be healthy and focus on my grades. However it took a much longer time to gain real fulfillment from my experience.

Now that my first year as an international student is over, the lessons I’ve learned make me much more confident and excited for my second year. A really important thing I’ve learned is to expand your network, not only with connections to possible employers or professionals in your area of study, but friends, even if you can’t seem to find anyone from your country! Domestic and international students can learn a lot from each other. You may not be able to talk about your financial aid struggles or language confusion, but you can learn about other cultures or even develop new interests.

It is definitely true that approaching strangers isn’t something this generation necessarily loves doing. However, online resources make it easy to find events and meet people with similar interests. Joining university facebook groups, using meetup.com, or even checking out events from posters hanging in the library or dorm hallways are all great ways to meet people in a more relaxed setting. On that note I also think being involved is really helpful. Whether you help organize events within your program of study, play an intramural sport, join an extracurricular club, or even get involved in off-campus activities; this kind of involvement can really help you not feel so alone as an international student. Getting out of your shell isn’t easy, especially as an outlier. But, from experience I can affirm it makes a world of difference for your experience.

With that being said, there are things you have to overcome alone. I’ve learned there’s a lot more responsibility that comes with being an International student. Even though my university and the large majority of colleges and universities with international students have resources, you have to be the one to reach out to those resources. Your friends and family can’t be there to help you speak to a financial aid officer, sign up for health insurance, or request a work visa. So using things like reminders and calendar apps can be really helpful to stay on top of handling all these appointments.

As my first year came to an end, I noticed a few common themes that really contributed to all my large and small successes: focus; confidence; and a willingness to take risks. I believe if any university student (international or not) remembers these things throughout their university career, they’ll have a more fulfilling road to success.
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Employer Profile: Gnanadesikan Ramanujanm of Somat Engineering

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Optional Practical Training Offers

Accomplished Engineering Firm a Diverse Talent Pool

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Gnanadesikan Ramanujanm, P.E. or “Ram” is the president and CEO of Detroit’s Somat Engineering firm. Somat’s projects include the University of Michigan G.G. Brown building addition and the I-75 Ambassador Bridge Gateway Project.The company was started in 1986 by founders  Ramji Patel and Dr. Vijaysinh Mahida and was established with an interest in emerging infrastructure engineering technologies and environmental services. After originally being hired at entry level through Optional Practical Training, Ram worked his way up in the company not only with office work, but his initiative to learn all facets of the firm’s field work as well.His personal success, as well as the success of the company didn’t come without roadblocks.

At first,Ram’s journey to the United States in 1986 was not inspired by the traditional path of  education or hopes of employment, but rather an his desire to travel. “Originally it wasn’t necessarily about studies, it was about seeing the United States.” said Ram.Though his father refused to give him money for exploring, Ram was promised a one-way plane ticket and seven hundred dollars for his admission into an American university. After getting his Masters in civil engineering from Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee; Ram said finding work in his field down South wasn’t going as planned. Following his graduation, Ram worked a number of odd jobs for almost a year before joining his younger brother in moving to Detroit.  “My younger brother found a job in Detroit working for GM and he invited me to come here.That’s the reason I came here, and sure enough, within two weeks of moving to Detroit I got a job at Somat where I still work.”  

Before Ram became a U.S. citizen, he was hired through OPT (optional practical training).He contributed his current success to a multitude of reasons. He said one of the biggest factors was his boss’s experience as an immigrant. “I think a big factor in my success is the fact that my boss who owns the company is himself an immigrant. He could relate to my struggles, he could relate to my shortcomings, and he was able to see beyond those things and give me a chance.” Ram explained how he and his boss worked together to be successful as an American company by learning not only about what it takes to get the job itself done well, but how to run a successful firm with employees who understand proper business practices and customs.

Since its inception over thirty years ago, Somat has grown from one small office to six offices handling numerous high-profile projects across the country and even in India. Ram says this wouldn’t be possible without the talented employees Somat hires. “I think that if you take the easy path as an employer you could miss out on some great talent that is here in the country. At Somat where I work we have a really diverse group of people. We have immigrants from all over the world, as well as local talent. We also have people of all races and religions.” Somat has a long history of hiring employees through OPT. Currently, Somat has several staff members on H-1B visas, many of whom started on OPT. Ram says the mixture of backgrounds and perspectives of the company’s staff heavily influences their adaptability to a multitude of professional situations and helps them keep a diverse clientele base.
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Professional Profile: Lou Wassel

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Words of Wisdom

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Politics. Generational psychology. Detroit’s history. These are just a few of the topics Mr. Wassel and I discussed at the GTRI/NACSAE Career Fair while manning the Global Detroit table. Being a Principal at Chromestar HR Advisors, Lou has taken his passion for people to the next level. He is generous enough to donate much of his time to the GTRI mission; in fact, it is because of people like Lou that news of GTRI events continues to spread nationally. This individual’s expanse of knowledge to share is simply astounding; he gave unparalleled attention to each student who approached us by critiquing resumes, identifying valuable skills, and giving tips on presenting/marketing those skills to employers. Thankfully, he also agreed to a follow-up interview for the purpose of relaying a few aforementioned tips to our social media audience.

Lou was wholly impressed by the degree of sincerity that many attendees exuded. This personability creates lasting impressions on employers and sets candidates apart from the crowd. Also, he acknowledged that the level of academic achievement seen in most students deserved a commendation of its own. As for improvements, we agreed that a large amount of candidates at our fair had resumes that were simply too long. Since resumes are supposed to be a brief introduction to one’s credentials, they should be no more than one page in length. As a student gains more work experience, a slightly longer resume is acceptable. Moral of the story is, don’t confuse a resume and a CV. Finally, Lou highly recommends that job-seekers spend some time memorizing 30-second and 2-minute “elevator pitches” to get employers interested. These consist of a brief introduction, educational background, work experience, and relevant skills, all in a quick but conversational monologue. The shorter or longer version can be used depending on the setting and social circumstances.

We thank Mr. Wassel for his support and can’t wait to see what new experiences the next GTRI event will bring!
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