On August 15, 2018, a group of 60 Jürgen Dormann Foundation (JDF) scholarship recipients brought their sharp, open minds to the ABB Corporate Research Center in Dättwil to learn about ABB innovations and priorities firsthand. Leaders from across the organization challenged the talented engineering and science students to think about their own roles in a time of digitalization, disruption, big questions - and opportunity.
The biennial meeting in Switzerland, a highlight of the JDF program, explored ABB's leadership in a digital world. Senior ABB executives offered a future-focused look at the company with compelling examples from the present, from game-changing technologies and Formula-E, to the shifting, diverse mindsetpeople are adopting to succeed. For JDF scholar Jinguo Zhu, a third-year electrical engineering student at Xi'an Jiaotong University, the presentation content mirrored his interests. "There is potential opportunity in AI, and power grids are my passion. So working with both? This is my dream."
Two JDF scholars, Ming Ming Lim and Ahmed Ahmed, also got their turns in the spotlight. Interviewed by ABB Head of Sustainability and JDF board member John Revess, they each elaborated on their interests, hopes and plans. Ming-Ming traced her unlikely path from Borneo to the University of Malaya in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. She shared her appreciation of being able to pursue her childhood dream, also talking about her internship with the ABB Power Grids division. In five years, she predicted, she will be ready to "step out of her comfort zone" and land in another ABB division, maybe even in a different place. Ahmed from Ain Shams University in Cairo, Egypt - who is a fan of renewable energy, robotics and cosplay in his free time - spoke warmly about the JDF, especially the ongoing support of his ABB mentors.
More than a change of scenery
Like many others, Ming Ming's first impression of the event revolved around the joy of meeting people from other cultures. Fellow Malaya student Marcus Guozong Lim agreed, saying he had already tasted sweets from India, before dinner, and tried out a few words in Turkish. Salma Makhlouf, also attending Cairo's Ain Shams University, was quick to post on Facebook and WhatsApp to tell family and friends about her eye-opening conversations with roommates from Mexico, China and South Africa.
With JDF scholars currently hailing from Bulgaria, China, Egypt, India, Malaysia, Mexico, Poland, South Africa, Switzerland, Turkey and Vietnam, the ABB JDF volunteers organized the week to inspire exchange on many levels. This was clear to Deyan Yordanov of the Technical University in Sofia, Bulgaria, who was most looking forward to learning from people who held different opinions than his own. He also had high expectations of the chocolate factory tour in Aargau, though not for the obvious reason: "I think the manufacturing processes will be very interesting." Unlike some of the others, Deyan was calm about the prospect of seeing snow on their visit to Mount Titlis. He had already seen plenty of it on his mountaineering trips, one of his favorite things to do back home.
Yet many JDF scholars, some abroad for the first time, were surprised by the scenery - in particular the bicycles in the streets and the wide open, green spaces. While a lively group from JDF partner universities in India spoke excitedly about the "towns between the hills" and the mere thought of snow, they saved their real enthusiasm for the people they had met. As electrical engineering student Vandan Rao put it, "We feel at home here."
For Vijay Shah, ABB Senior Principal Engineer and head JDF country contact for India, the sense of connection is mutual. "The JDF program is close to my heart because I've seen how much it touches the lives of the students. As time goes on, I can see a real difference between those first student interviews (for selection) and how much the program helps to build their value systems, confidence and resilience. The JDF is unique because it opens up an opportunity that wouldn't normally exist for these young people, and makes it all possible."
The JDF scholars have now returned home, energized by their packed week in Switzerland and full of hope about their engineering careers and new cross-border friendships that may well last a lifetime.