Kuan-Yi Lee: Outstanding senior's unique experiences as an international student

November 16, 2020

Kuan-Yi Lee came to Iowa State from Taipei, Taiwan with little experience and knowledge in agriculture. Following her curiosity, Kuan-Yi led a great adventure at Iowa State and has big plans for the future.

"I began my college experience at the Department of Agronomy at National Chung Hsing University in Taiwan, where I studied for one year and became very interested in crop production and I learned more about agronomy," said Kuan-Yi. "My family asked me to study abroad and I decided to look for a university with an outstanding agronomy program and I found Iowa State University. In addition, the department chair of agronomy at my former university got his MS in Statistics at Iowa State University and spoke highly of the agronomy department."

Kuan-Yi explained that there was a big difference between college education in the US and Taiwan besides language. She noted that the US has more assignments, projects, exams, and teamwork. She had to spend a lot of time keeping up with coursework, looking up new vocabulary, and improving her English so that she could discuss with peers and ask more precise questions.

"One of the biggest transitions for me was to understand the U.S. unit system while I grew up using the metric system. It was especially challenging for me when taking exams that required calculations. Luckily, most of my professors understood the difficulties and would give me credits if I calculated a slightly different answer due to unit conversions."

Kuan-Yi traveled to Uganda in the summer of 2018 with the ISU-Uganda Program as a service learner. The program was six weeks long and she had the opportunity to teach fifth-grade math at Namasagali Primary School with a partner from Makerere University. Kuan-Yi also completed an agroforestry project as a team to improve fencing and planted trees at school gardens. This was a life-changing experience as she was able to see how school gardens could contribute to school lunches and also how people from different cultures could successfully work together. 

"For the Science with Practice Program, I worked with Dr. Michael Thompson and Dr. Fritzie Chen on optimizing measurements of soil particulate organic matter (POM) and particle size distribution (PSD). We worked on this topic due to inconsistent data retrieved from previous years and we wanted to improve the reproducibility and find the factors that potentially influenced the inconsistency," said Kuan-Yi. "I began with soil sampling, soil processing, and determining potential influencing factors as grouping factors. After performing the updated experiment method, we successfully improved the reproducibility of the measurement, which is encouraging for our research group in conducting analyses on POM and PSD in the future."

In the summer of 2019, Kuan-Yi interned at a crop consulting company, Ag Advisory Ltd. in Algona, Iowa. She learned how to do professional soil sampling and identify crop diseases, pests, and nutrient deficiencies. Kuan-Yi interacted with farmers and prepared and presented the soil analyses and recommendations to them. She noted that this was a critical experience for her to learn more about real agriculture in Iowa as she did not come from an agricultural background.

"I was the president of the Taiwanese Student Association for one year and hosted several events to promote traditional Taiwanese culture and provide a place for Taiwanese students to network. In addition, TSA participated in the International Food Fair in 2019, which was the first time in five years where we introduced some local foods to the public and fundraised for the club," said Kuan-Yi. "I am also a member of MANRRS (Minorities in Agriculture, Natural Resources, and Related Sciences) and went to the National Conference in 2019. In addition, I am the vice president of the badminton club and I hosted a tournament that had 150 participants."

Kuan-Yi closed by explaining the importance of Agron 110 and how it helped her prepare a resume for the career fair. Through this assignment, she realized that she didn't have enough experience to be competitive on resumes. She then took initiative to find jobs in the department and began working in Dr. Thompson's soil chemistry lab. 

"I worked at the lab for three years, where I learned a lot about research and soil science. I got so interested in them that I plan to work in soil science and pursue a master's degree in related fields upon graduating from Iowa State," said Kuan-Yi.

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