Commencement 2013: URI student’s year in China sets her apart in job market

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New Hampshire native to graduate with engineering, Chinese degrees

KINGSTON, R.I. – April 9, 2013 – Alissa McKechnie said she chose to study mechanical engineering at the University of Rhode Island because she likes to tinker with things, and because she wanted to prove wrong a high school teacher who said she couldn’t do it.

She certainly succeeded in that effort. The East Hampstead, N.H., native will graduate from URI on May 19 with not only a bachelor’s degree in engineering but with a degree in Chinese, too. She also spent a year living, studying and working in China through the URI International Engineering Program, an experience that she finds has set her apart from the glut of others in the job market.

“I took Spanish in high school and got bored with it. It’s too similar to English,” McKechnie explained. “I really like the art and history of China, both of which go into writing, learning and experiencing Chinese. Chinese isn’t something you can just pick up and run with. It’s an experience, and you have to really dedicate your time to it.”

McKechnie got her first taste of China on a six-week study tour during the summer of 2009, and she returned for the entire 2011-12 school year, beginning with six months of classes at Zhejiang University in the city of Hangzhou, which Marco Polo described as the most beautiful place on Earth.

“We had daily language classes focusing on grammar, speaking, listening and a class that combined them all,” she said. “Listening was by far the hardest part. We listened to a tape of someone speaking Chinese at a speed that seemed was as fast as they could, and then we were questioned about what they said.”

In addition to the language classes, she took classes in Chinese history and culture, as well as lessons in kung fu.

“Kung fu was entertaining, if nothing else,” McKechnie said with a grin. “The class started with 50 students standing outside the dorm, but by the end of the semester there were just 15 of us left. It’s like a performance, like a dance, but physically demanding.”

She concluded her year in China with a six-month internship at Hasbro Far East, Hasbro Inc.’s East Asia subsidiary, where she was part of a project management team planning the logistics of producing action figures and role-playing games. She visited numerous factories, model shops and machine shops to learn about every step in the production process.

“My favorite part was evenings with my coworkers, who became good friends,” said McKechnie, who served as an International Engineering Program ambassador at URI. “They were very embracing and showed me the lifestyle outside of work. We had family style dinners together, played mahjong, and I even won sometimes.”

She was even selected for the company’s Dragon Boat Festival racing team, which dressed in Iron Man costumes and competed before tens of thousands of people in Hong Kong.

As McKechnie prepares to graduate, she has found that her experience in China and her language skills have distinguished her from other job seekers.

“Just having Chinese on my resume has had employers take an interest in me,” she said. “Having international experience, regardless of where it is, is so important because the economy is so international. Nothing is made solely in the U.S. any more.”

McKechnie has had job interviews all over New England and is confident she will have a job before she graduates. “I feel like I’ve taken the right courses and I’m well prepared for whatever job is out there,” she said.

“My perfect job would be one where I’m not behind a computer hidden away all day and where I get to travel. I’d love to make it back to China some day. Mostly I just want to keep learning. I’m sure the real-world learning will be equal if not better than the great learning experience I’ve had here at URI.”

Photo submitted by Alissa McKechnie