Welcome to Wyoming

January 16, 2023
person on a boat
Anastasiia Pereverten in New York City. (Courtesy image)

Meet students, faculty and alumni from around the world. 

By Micaela Myers 

Stand with Ukraine

When the spring 2021 semester began, Anastasiia Pereverten was just like any other international student on a semester abroad. But a month later, war broke out in her home country of Ukraine.

“The initial reaction you have is fear and uncertainty about what your family is going to do and how they feel,” she says. “How will the situation unfold? The moment you face that fear, you know you have such little influence on the situation over there. You have to put your mind toward what you can change right here, right now.”

What she could do, she decided, was help people understand the war and stand with Ukrainians. She helped organize events and began speaking to the press, including USA Today.

“Since the first day, I’ve been concentrating the efforts on spreading awareness about Ukraine and disseminating truthful information because Russia is actively disseminating false information,” says Pereverten. “Standing with Ukraine is standing for democracy in this world.”

Pereverten hosted booths in the Wyoming Union and helped organize panel discussions, speakers and two local rallies — one downtown and one on campus.

“We had a great turnout,” she says. “I didn’t expect the community to be so engaged. People started donating. In total, we’ve raised more than $9,000 for Ukrainian military support funds.”

Pereverten also worked with UW Libraries and UW’s administration to create a collection of English-language literature about all aspects of Ukrainian culture.

She hasn’t seen her parents or siblings since the war broke out and hopes to finish her degree at UW.

“For me, it’s a life-forming experience,” she says of her time here, adding that international students bring an important perspective to campus. “I see how even the tiny bit of knowledge and background I’m bringing to my classes changes the educational experiences of my classmates.” 

Serial Entrepreneur

Christoph Geisler attended UW for his Ph.D. in molecular biology and stayed to help drive Wyoming’s economy forward. He is now on his second startup company. Geisler was born in Germany to a Dutch mother and German father. He attended university in The Netherlands, with research in Australia before coming to UW in 2004. Here, he met his wife, fellow international student Pooja Gupta, who is from India. They now have two children and appreciate Wyoming’s good schools and quality of life.

“I simply love living here,” Geisler says. “There’s no way I’d have a 2-minute commute by bike if I lived in a tech mecca like San Francisco. Running a business here is much more affordable. Lab space would be 10 times more in California. We couldn’t have made this progress elsewhere.”

After graduation, Geisler co-founded the biotech company GlycoBac, whose products are distributed by MilliporeSigma and are used in research and development worldwide. Geisler then launched his next startup, Unlocked Labs Inc., which engineers next-generation probiotics that safely remove toxins from the body through the gut. The startup is based in UW’s IMPACT 307 Laramie business incubator.

“It’s exciting to work on disruptive technology — products that address the root causes of kidney stones, gout and heart attacks. We figured out what probiotics’ natural superpowers are, and we enhanced those, taking advantage of their metabolic abilities,” Geisler says. “I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for UW. I learned everything I know about science and fundraising — getting my Ph.D. here and launching my first startup.”

Unlocked Labs will sell directly to consumers, and its products can be used as a preventative as well as a treatment. It has benefitted from Small Business Innovation Research grants matched by the state, as well as private investment.

“There are a lot of people from around the world who bring different perspectives and skill sets,” Geisler says. He hopes the United States can make it easier for international entrepreneurs such as himself to stay and contribute to the economy.

While Geisler loves Laramie, he can’t help but miss his favorite dish from The Netherlands: “Mussels steamed in white wine with homemade thick-cut fries with mayo and a glass of beer.”

man with a laptop computer
Vamegh Rasouli in the Drilling & Completions Simulator Lab.

World-class Program

Perhaps no department at UW is as international as the Department of Energy and Petroleum Engineering, which attracts faculty and students from around the world. This includes new department head and Le Norman Endowed Leadership Chair in Petroleum Engineering Vamegh Rasouli, whose entire career has been international. Rasouli is from Iran, earned his doctorate from the Imperial College London, then taught in Australia and North Dakota before joining UW in 2022.

“If you really want to make your program diverse and benefit from different ideas, thinking and opportunities, then having people from different places around the world will be very helpful,” he says. “You will be surprised how many great ideas will come from that environment and not just having one nationality in the program. Also, you learn different technical things because we have varying reservoirs and formations. So when you bring in different people and discuss, that adds value to the education, research and opportunities.”

In addition to living in different countries, Rasouli travels extensively as an instructor for Schlumberger’s NExT (Network of Excellence in Training) program, which delivers industry short courses.

“When you travel, you learn to understand things you didn’t even know existed,” he says. This means taking the time to understand cultural differences.

One thing that’s unique about his home country of Iran is the emphasis on higher education. “Everyone wants to get a doctoral degree, which is not the case in a lot of places,” Rasouli says.

His research and teaching interests center on petroleum and unconventional reservoir geomechanics, wellbore stability, hydraulic fracturing and drilling.

“Wyoming is an energy-dominated state — that was important to me,” he says of his decision to join UW. “I saw great opportunities here for the development of this program. I want to help make this program well-known around the world.” 

Bringing Excellence in Teaching Home

Recent doctoral graduate Libni Berenice Castellón wants people to know that Honduras, located in the heart of Central America, is a beautiful tropical country rich in natural resources with white sand beaches, coral reefs, mountains, and stunning Mayan and Spanish architecture. Her favorite local food is fish from Lake Yojoa.

“The whole fish is deep fried in oil and served with pickled onions and pickled cabbage, usually accompanied by fried green bananas or plantains,” she says.

Castellón attended an educational conference at UW and decided to pursue her Ph.D. here in curriculum and instruction, with an emphasis in mathematics education and a minor in quantitative research methods.

“I was impressed with the program and the work graduate students were doing,” she says. “I saw UW as a great institution to get my degree and grow professionally.”

Castellón earned a grant through UW’s Social Justice Research Center to help fund her dissertation research on an intervention protocol to develop mathematical reasoning and language to support multilingual students.

“Being a graduate student at UW has been a wonderful experience,” she says. “Professors are knowledgeable, supportive and care about their students. In the future, I want to return to my home country and work as a professor at the Francisco Morazán National Pedagogical University. I believe UW prepared me to become a leader in my university and to strengthen research. I would also like to start a professional development program for some schools in Honduras where my colleagues and I can offer ongoing support in the classroom for teachers and students to experience problem solving in mathematics.”

person at a bonfire on a beach
Cilia Abdelhamid in Algeria. (Courtesy image)

All the Way from Algeria

Q&A with Cilia Abdelhamid, Ph.D. candidate in petroleum engineering from Algiers, Algeria

Favorite food: rechta (thin flat noodles, often served with a spiced chicken or meat sauce) and couscous.

What would you like people to know about your home country? “Algeria is the largest African country and is home to many well-preserved Roman ruins. Algeria is also one of the biggest oil producers in the world and has abundant natural gas reserves. Algerians speak Arabic, Berber and French. Algerians are famous for their warm and friendly demeanor, especially toward guests. It’s customary for Algerians to invite visitors or friends into their home for a few cups of tea and good company.”

Tell us about your time at UW: “I chose UW because of its quality of education. I’m excited to learn from the teachers who have created such a fantastic program.

“I have the chance to be advised by and work with Associate Professor Minou Rabiei and Associate Research Scientist Kalyan Venugopal, who are working on data mining and machine learning applied to petroleum engineering.

“I also joined the Middle East and North Africa Cultural Club, which is formed by students interested in the region’s culture, tradition and history. They are planning for many interesting events that I’ll be part of during my time at UW.”

How does internationalization benefit you and UW? “I believe that international students bring a unique skill set to UW, help its growth and make it more diverse and developed. It also helps students learn to avoid stereotyping and build more informed opinions about other countries.

“By attending a school outside my country, I have the opportunity to hone my language skills, experience a different way of teaching, and discover a new culture and perspective, all of which allows me to enrich my worldview and expand my network.” 

From Norway, With Love

When Jørgen Waaler attended UW for his bachelor’s in business (’82) followed by his MBA (’83), there were 60 Norwegian students, a number of them drawn by the competitive Nordic ski team. They had such an amazing experience that up to 30 Norwegian UW alumni still get together every December, with Waaler as their alumni network leader.

Waaler believes his UW education was invaluable in his successful career, which included serving as CEO of the public tech company StrongPoint ASA for 16 years. StrongPoint develops and sells retail technology solutions for e-commerce and in-store operations. Now semi-retired, Waaler serves as board director at 10 different companies within the information technology and life science fields.

“Learning American culture was very valuable,” Waaler says of this UW education. “At StrongPoint, we had a lot of relations with American companies. That’s one of the advantages UW gave me, in addition to the language, of course.”

An international education is even more important in today’s world, he says: “Globalization is increasing. International trade and global relations are very important for business. When cultures start to isolate, it’s very bad. The more you interact internationally, the more stable the world will be, and the more peace there will be because we understand each other in a much better way.”

Waaler says his home country of Norway is a leader in several areas, including as a peacemaker and in the world of sustainability. The country has a strong NATO presence, all electric power comes from renewables, and 70 percent of cars sold being electric. Norway is also famous for its salmon, Waaler’s favorite food.

He hopes to see UW’s Nordic ski team return to Division 1 status — it is currently a club sport — and believes it would do much to recruit in countries such as Norway.

person in the snow
Yuening “Heidi” Shen enjoying the snow. (Courtesy image)

Learning to Ski

Yuening “Heidi” Shen is a competitive table tennis player in her home country of China, but she’d never cross-country skied until arriving in Laramie as part of the UW Division of Kinesiology and Health’s partnership with Shanghai University of Sport. As a master’s student on a school-year exchange, Shen is taking part in an immersive Nordic ski program as well as taking courses.

“The Nordic skiing team is like a family,” she says. “The coaches have the most professional experience and knowledge. Together with my teammates, they make it feel like home. I love my team very much. When I go back to my home country, I can teach this sport to others. I’m lucky I have a chance to come here and learn about Nordic skiing.”

Shen says each province of China has its own unique cuisine. Her favorite is hot pot known for its spiciness. She also loves dumplings, a lake crab known as hairy crab and milk tea.

As a future physical education teacher, Shen says her UW coursework, including hands-on experience in the local schools, is invaluable.

“My UW courses have taught me how to be a teacher,” she says. “Coming to UW is a totally new environment. I’ve made great friends and am experiencing a lot. I love the Cowboys and Cowgirls. I go to the football games, and we sing and dance together. I’ve learned a lot about American culture. It’s a very meaningful experience.” 

Global Presence

Last year, the molecular and cellular life sciences and molecular biology programs welcomed several graduate students from Ghana, including doctoral molecular biology student Jesse Kaleku from Accra.

“Ghana is a very peaceful country and full of hospitable people who are very welcoming,” he says. “I miss the food. There’s lots of variety. One can go 30 days without eating the same type of food. My favorite is called kenkey. It’s made from fermented milled corn, wrapped in corn husks and eaten with fried fish, ground pepper and vegetables and tomatoes.”

UW was well known at his undergraduate institution. Graduates have returned home and made a big impact, which is why Kaleku and 15 of his fellow Ghanaians chose UW.

“International students greatly help in putting UW on the map in the research we do,” he says. “It’s seen all over the world.”

Kaleku’s research focuses on plants and their response to increasing temperatures, including the evolution of new pathogens in polar regions such as Antarctica. These pathogens could evolve and spread, causing problems around the world. After completing his program, he wants to remain in the field of research.

He appreciates President Ed Seidel’s frequent communication with students and the fact that his professors are demanding yet approachable.

“My time here has been great,” Kaleku says. “I’ve made lots of friends. Laramie is full of welcoming people. You have the opportunity to broaden yourself at UW.”

three people with green flag with a red circle on it
Bangladesh Night. (Photo by Tige Wilson)

International Student Clubs

UW is home to over 200 student clubs, a number of which highlight regions of the world to provide students with camaraderie and the chance to share their culture with the wider community. Here, we spoke to a few of the club leaders about their offerings.

Central Asian Student Association: “Our club focuses on promoting cross-cultural understanding,” says club adviser Dilnoza Khasilova of Tashkent-Fergana, Uzbekistan. Khasilova graduated with her doctorate in 2020 and is now a global engagement fellow at UW. The club’s activities include international education week each November, nonformal learning classes around world language and cultures, and Central Asian Awareness Day.

Muslim Student Association: The club organizes an annual Islamic Festival Week, with events including “Ask a Muslim” and a banquet dinner complete with guest speaker. “Living as a minority in a place like Wyoming — it is my responsibility to bring awareness to the public of what Islam really is,” says chemical engineering senior Amel Ksaibati, whose parents hail from Jordan. “I want our club to be a safe place where Muslims can make friends and feel understood.”

Friends of Nepal: “Our mission includes assisting incoming international Nepali students, fostering friendly relations and promoting Nepali culture among the diversified global community,” says Ph.D. petroleum engineering student Samir Budhathoki of Manpur, Dang, Nepal. “We celebrate the major Nepalese community festivals and host Celebrate Nepal, which is considered our grand event that we do every year during Nepali New Year in mid-April.”

Bangladesh Students’ Association: With a whopping membership of 60 students, the club puts on several events. “Bangladesh Night is our annual showcase event of culture and cuisine,” says Nafis Bin Masud, a doctoral student in civil engineering. This year, the club will also host Pahela Baishakh in celebration of the first month in the Bengali solar calendar. “It is one of the most important festivals for the Bengali community and is celebrated with cultural dance, music and food,” he says.

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