Maydel Uzcategui
English Language Institute

Student Success Story

Maydel Uzcategui made a bold move from Venezuela to the United States, all on her own, in pursuit of twin goals. She wanted to improve her English skills and become a civil engineer.  A graduate of the English Language Institute, she’s now working on her master’s degree in engineering at Sacramento State. ”Hopefully I can work for a transnational company focused on geotechnical engineering.”

“My family has an engineering background — my mom and uncle are engineers,” she says. While they focus on electrical engineering, she is taking a slightly different path. “I researched civil engineering programs, because I want to study the soil of different countries and do lab studies.”

With such lofty goals, Maydel has wasted no time working towards her future career. She sped through the English Language Institute in 18 months, perfecting the language before entering the civil engineering master’s program on campus. She made such a good impression that the ELI program hired her as a student assistant while she pursues her master’s degree.

She came a long way both literally and figuratively. “In the beginning, I didn’t have a place to live,” she says. “Coming here to study, it was my first time in the country. When you come here, you don’t have anything.” The ELI staff went above and beyond to help her find a place to stay, so she’d feel comfortable in her new host country from her first day forward.

“From the beginning, I felt like they really cared about the students. They were always checking with students, and giving them lots of attention. With international students they are very careful and considerate.”

Now working for the Institute, she sees the other side of things. “I was surprised — I didn’t expect that they do so much work! When you are a student, they make it feel okay for you to request extra help any time you need it. But now, I see 20 students asking for things, and our team has to provide information for all of them. Each student has a VISA status, or a transfer status, and you have to handle them all.”

While she works 20 hours a week at ELI, she also balances her time with graduate classes. “It’s my first semester, and it’s very hard. The professors speak fast, and they expect you to know everything. But I record all of my classes so I can hear what they say.” Determined to stay on track, she spends her nights and weekends doing homework and networking.

Although her program is challenging, she also sees a supportive environment for foreign students on campus. “Professors know they have international students in class, and they’re more understanding. I’ve also met a lot of international students through graduate programs, so I feel like teaching them what I know since it’s their first time coming to America. It’s been great making new connections here, and making friends.”

With such a warm and welcoming personality, she has easily formed new friendships here. “I was very excited to come here and make American friends. I wanted to be in the culture and try everything.” She also made good friends with other ELI students. “A lot of them were from South Korea and even Peru, close to my home country. We stay in touch, and now I have hosts all over the world when I want to travel. I want to see them all, like in South Korea and Japan.”

One of her closest friends was a former ELI classmate, and fellow member of the Society of Women Engineers. “A couple weeks ago, I went to the international Society of Women Engineers conference. My friend got a job at that conference, which was so cool! It gave me so much hope, since she was an ELI student and then got a job with an international company, which is my goal too. So I can see myself succeeding.”

In the meantime, she has been loving life in northern California. “Sacramento is so perfect. I like that it’s close to every city that you may want to see, like San Francisco and Lake Tahoe, and it’s more affordable than those cities, which are really expensive. At the same time it’s very calm, and you don’t have the busy life. And the temperature is really good!” She’s also in the perfect spot for her grad work. “I’ve been doing a lot of research for my papers, and all of the materials and sources are here in northern California, like at Berkeley. So the location is really convenient for my studies.”