Maria’s interest in China was cultivated when she helped launch a student group at TU called SENEA (Sustainable Engineering for Needy and Emerging Areas), which connects sustainable and alternative energy technologies with the global community. SENEA’s goal is to “promote the research, development, and implementation of engineering projects that directly improve the quality of life for impoverished people”. Maria travelled with the group to the Jilin province in China to visit a farm that teaches sustainable agriculture practices to local farmers in the region. Due to this project and her interest in China, Maria won a scholarship award from the Chinese Scholarship Council that allowed her to directly enroll into Xiamen University in China for a year. She opted to take a year off from her engineering studies to focus solely on Chinese. Maria took a huge leap with her study abroad choices, and she is glad that she did. Her experience was often unstructured, but never boring. “I grew and learned a lot […and] my Chinese improved dramatically,” said Maria.
Maria’s advice to any students nervous about leaving the comforts of home: find a little bit of home in your host country. If something is a major part of your life in Tulsa, keep it up while abroad. Maria found dance classes and religious groups particularly helpful. Her shared interests with the people she met there led to quick friendships. “It's easier to build relationships if you genuinely have a connection,” said Maria.
Today, Maria continues her studies in engineering at Stanford University. She is currently doing research in computational biomechanics and working towards a Master’s degree. She plans to pursue a doctorate afterwards.