Published October 25, 2018
In 2005, a group of ten students traveled over 5,000 miles from their home country of Turkey to study at UB. The cohort came with a unique goal: to participate in the Dual Diploma Program, a partnership between the University at Buffalo’s Department of Civil, Structural and Environmental Engineering and Istanbul Technical University (ITU).
This first cohort graduated in 2008. Ten years later, the program is stronger than ever, with over 250 graduates going on to careers and advanced degree programs in the U.S. and abroad.
The program boasts an 85% graduation rate, surpassing the national undergraduate conferral rate of public research universities. This year, students and faculty celebrated additional milestones: three students who completed the Dual Diploma Program (DDP) were accepted into a UB master’s program, and two students, Ugur Eker and Ali Gurbuz,will earn their PhDs in civil engineering later this year.
Eker, who has been in Buffalo since 2010, says this program made the prospect of studying in the U.S. realistic. The DDP’s status as an official Turkish government program makes it simpler for students to transition into an education program in the United States.
“You’re not actually applying to UB, you’re applying to the dual diploma program,” he says, “and once you’re accepted, you are accepted at both schools. If this program wasn’t there, I would never have applied to school in the U.S. because the process is too difficult.”
Students in the DDP complete their freshman and junior years at ITU, and their sophomore and senior years at UB. This model offers students a bicultural experience and the opportunity to develop the skills necessary to be successful engineers in the U.S., Turkey and around the globe.
The seeds of the program were planted in 2000, when the State University of New York (SUNY) entered into general discussions with the Turkish Higher Education Administration, called YÖK, to develop dual diploma programs linking universities in New York and Turkey.
“Civil engineering at UB was a really good academic match for the program because of its international reputation,” says Christine Human, associate dean for accreditation and student affairs in the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, and the DDP’s academic advisor. “The department is highly ranked and has expertise in structural and earthquake engineering, as does ITU.”
Over the years, SUNY and YÖK have continued to develop and add more programs to the SUNY-Turkish portfolio, with a current roster of 21 active programs between four Turkish universities and 10 SUNY campuses. UB is unique in the fact that it is the only SUNY school to offer a DDP in civil engineering.
Steven Shaw, UB’s assistant vice provost and director of international admissions, helped oversee the inception of the agreement between SUNY and YÖK. Of the program today, he says, “In total, it’s enrolled more than 3,100 Turkish students, including over 2,200 graduates thus far.”
The students’ success in the program can in part be attributed to the support they received from UB staff and faculty. “There are orientation programs before the semester starts that inform international students about the banking system in U.S., campus life, dorms, campus restaurants, shops, U.S. laws, UB campus rules and basically things to do and not do,” says Umit Oksuz, a graduate of the program. “UB staff and faculty are very helpful to international students. They know what we are going through and try to do everything to make our life easier.”
After earning his bachelor degree in 2012, Oksuz completed an MS at the University of Texas at Austin and now works at Structural Engineering Associates, Inc. in San Antonio. In 2017, he earned his Professional Engineering License, or PE.
“The education students get from the DDP is exceptional and well beyond the industry standards,” says Oskuz. “An average engineer takes additional PE preparatory courses and studies approximately 300 hours to pass the PE exam, while I was able to do it with 2-3 weeks of self-study.”
Many graduates of the DDP have been able to leverage and build on the program’s bicultural experience. Yusa Hakan, who graduated in 2011, secured his first engineering job during a UB Career Services event.
“Aside from the academics, professional connections certainly help in landing a job. My first engineering job was with Kiewit, the fifth largest construction company in the U.S.,” he says. “They were looking for someone with strong technical knowledge and who was willing to travel. I shared my story about being abroad and studying in two universities. They hired me shortly after.”
Domestic students at UB may also take advantage of the partnership between the ITU and UB. UB student Derek Johnson spent a semester abroad at ITU, and cherishes his experience.
“Once I made a few friends and was able to explore Istanbul, the experience was like no other,” said Johnson. “Through the Erasmus Student Network, I was able to explore the culture and scenery in Turkey without falling behind in my coursework.”
Both partners continuously strive to improve the experience for DDP students, recently expanding experiential learning opportunities and shared online activities. “We have UB students connecting with first year ITUs through video chat,” says Professor Human, who hopes that these efforts will lead to a mentor-mentee program between domestic students and DDP students.
Each year, Human and Éva McGovern, the undergraduate academic coordinator in the Department of Civil, Structural and Environmental Engineering, organize a social event in mid-September to help with the transition DDP and other international students go through. “We host a bonfire and toast marshmallows and take boat rides on UB’s Lake LaSalle,” said McGovern.
Though participants in the DDP program spend only half of their undergraduate careers at UB, they demonstrate full-time UB pride and establish meaningful connections to the campus community and the region. Ceren Kucukcelcebi and her husband Mehmet Gökalp Gedik both completed the DDP.
"Buffalo is very special for us,” Kucukcelcebi says. “We were in America during our honeymoon, and we reserved one of our days to visit Buffalo and Dr. Human, who is a valuable teacher, and supported us throughout our time at UB.”
UB welcomed its latest cohort of 16 DDP students last month. “In our changing world economy, collaboration between nations in STEM fields remains imperative. Many of our DDP students find employment in the U.S. or stay for graduate studies,” McGovern says. “It is a pleasure to see their success.”