Thai Student Finds Big Dreams, Big Welcome in Wisconsin
One NWTC student has traveled halfway around the world and earned three college degrees to achieve her dream—and she’s on her way to a fourth.
Nuchanat “Nash” Pongsai earned a bachelor’s degree in her native Thailand that didn’t feel like a good fit. At age 21, she decided to come to the United States to learn English, but when she arrived, she remembered her love of engineering.
“I’m like, I should pursue my dream!” she said with a grin.
For the last several years, Pongsai has been an energetic presence in the engineering technology and mechanical technology labs, succeeding in some of the most academically challenging programs at the college, impressing her instructors, working on group projects and making new friends, all in a language she is still learning.
“Luckily, I have wonderful classmates around here,” she said. “English is not my first language. But in [NWTC], they will come to talk to you. Even if they don’t understand what I’m saying, they try. I feel lucky that I chose this school.”
She enrolled first in the Manufacturing Engineering Technology associate degree program “to see what engineering is, what the jobs are, and what they learn,” Pongsai said. She earned that degree in 2018, completed Electro-Mechanical Technology in 2019 and will complete Automation Engineering Technology in 2020. “Automation, I feel, it is an art, because when you control something, you have to think, use imagination, how you’re going to program it, how you’re going to control it, and do no damage,” Pongsai said. “You have to understand everything.”
She sees many cultural similarities between Thailand and Wisconsin.
“I cannot see much difference,” Pongsai said. “Your culture and my culture are basically more high tech, more open-minded, and we have respect for privacy.”
The weather, though, is another matter. “In the week that I came, in Thailand, it was about 80, but here it was 40, and I was like, wow.”
Pongsai encourages women to consider technical careers no matter the challenges. She left Thailand and moved to Wisconsin without ever having seen the area, and only a few years later, she has found friends among her classmates and her co-workers at Arrowcast Inc. in Shawano.
“I am a woman, I am an international student, and in trades and engineering,” she said. “I would tell every girl, ‘Don’t be scared. Be proud of you and do your best.”