World Traveler: An Interview With MEM Alumnus Shengyang Li

Recent MEM graduate Shengyang Li talks about his experiences in the MEM Program, at Northwestern, and in the world at large.

Any fun facts about yourself that you’d like to share with our readers?

Some fun facts about me: I grew up in China, worked in Africa, and got my MEM degree in the U.S. In the last 10 months, I finished 4 triathlon and marathon races, and I have another five to go in as many months. In the last five years, I have traveled on five of the seven continents, and I am likely to visit the other two, South America and Antarctica, within the next couple of years.

I’m sure you considered a number of different schools and programs of study before coming to NU. What made you choose the MEM Program here?

There are several things that made the MEM Program at Northwestern my choice. Reputation was the first measurement on the matrix. Both Northwestern University and its Industrial Engineering Department are prestigious programs. Secondly, it was the curriculum, faculty, and colleagues. NUMEM’s core courses delivers a structured set of business knowledge and skills for engineers to step into management roles; electives offer three concentrations that meet different individual needs; and learning is maximized by professors with years of real-world industrial experience, as well as peers from many science and engineering fields. Another key element to me was location. The lakeside campus is absolutely awesome, providing not just a wonderful studying and living environment close to the great city of Chicago, but it’s also close to various industries in the area. Some other programs may have one or two of these characteristics, but coming here I got to have it all.

What were your first impressions about NU and your course of study? Have these impressions changed?

My first impression about NU was “Look around, isn’t it a great place?” And it has turned out that the university and the program offer much more than even meets the eye. There are many facilities, activities, and services that go way beyond what I could take advantage of. For example, there are three gyms on the campus and variety of daily group exercise classes free to full-time students; all kinds of mini-courses, student organizations, and musical/cultural performances; and more importantly seminars, competitions, social events, career services, health services, and alumni networks.

What did you like best about your time here, and about the program?

Some highlights of my time at Northwestern and MEM are: in-class discussions over MEM courses, making presentations with different teammates on various subjects, winning the 2013 Accenture Analytics Competition, working out in the gym, and sitting on the campus lakefront with its beautiful view of Chicago Skyline.

In your opinion, what is the most important thing a MEM student needs to succeed in the program?

In my opinion, the most important thing to succeed is to effectively connect to the MEM network. It is not a problem for students to succeed in study because MEM is a highly selective program, but there are challenges for everybody to connect with others. Part-time students are all working professionals who come to class after work and go home immediately after class. As a result, the connection among MEM students is not as strong as that in a full-time cohort program. However, there are definitely more opportunities in the MEM network, extending to MEMPC, to approach new careers and business partners through students, alumni, and faculty.

Would you recommend getting a MEM degree to others?

Yes, I would recommend getting a MEM degree to technical professionals who look forward to a proper postgraduate education in order to take management responsibilities.

You basically moved halfway around the world when you decided to come here, right? I know from experience how tough that can be. What advice would you give to other international students like yourself who are new to the program?

There are a few tips I would like to give:

  • Even before packing, take time to browse the Northwestern and MEM websites for useful resources, e.g. information about facilities, activities, services, etc. that cannot be ignored, and make a to do list. Keep doing this from time to time.
  • If possible, arrive a few weeks early before the program starts. It will be very helpful to settle in smoothly and become familiar with basic routines like grocery shopping and commuting.
  • To quickly blend in, get connected with other people and make new friends as soon as possible. For example, get to the classroom 20 minutes before class, so there is time to chat with your MEM colleagues who have to rush home afterwards.

What are your plans now that you have graduated?

I will start the Master of Science in Analytics (MSiA) Program at Northwestern in September 2014. It is a passion that I have explored throughout my time in the MEM Program, and I have decided to develop a new career in Analytics. I believe the combination of MEM and MSiA will be very exciting.


Aug 4, 2014: Sheng after finishing his first sprint triathlon in Naperville, IL.
Aug 4, 2014: Sheng after finishing his first sprint triathlon in Naperville, IL.

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