UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – As the latest Penn State School of International Affairs class donned their caps and gowns earlier this month and prepared to enter the real world, they likely looked to many of the successful alumni that have come before them for guidance.
This year, one particular alumnus stood out: Shadi Ghrayeb, a 2019 Penn State Alumni Association Alumni Achievement Award recipient.
A dual-degree student, Ghrayeb was originally drawn to Penn State for its top-notch engineering program. When he visited the campus, having come from a small undergraduate engineering school, he said he was immediately impressed by the faculty, facilities, and opportunities available. He quickly realized that this university was different, and he was ready to diversify his college experience.
“The campus was so diverse and inclusive, and that’s what really attracted me to the school in the first place,” Ghrayeb explained.
Upon further investigation, he “stumbled upon” the School of International Affairs, a fairly young school at the time. He recognized many of the faculty members from following them outside of academia, including Professors Flynt Leverett and Dennis Jett. Ghrayeb saw a great opportunity to merge his interests, and decided to pursue a Master of International Affairs along with a master’s degree in Engineering.
And the decision, he says, set him on a career path that set him apart.
“It was an amazing experience,” Ghrayeb said. “Every class was different. Students were so engaged, and it was a vibrant community. Years later, I have run into fellow students while abroad. It really is a global community.”
Ghrayeb also credits his time at SIA with giving him an advantage when it came time to find a career.
“I’ve found throughout my career that the easiest questions are often the hardest to answer,” he said. “Working with SIA gave me critical thinking skills that are invaluable. They made me realize that there is more to the story than the headline.”
The Penn State connection also helped, giving Ghrayeb the confidence to reach out to fellow alumni to make connections in the field he wanted to enter. That opportunity to start a conversation and then build a connection, and eventually a network, is a hallmark of the Penn State experience. And it made the Alumni Achievement Award, and being back at Penn State, all the more worthwhile, he noted.
“The award means a lot to me and is a huge honor. I am proud and humbled to have been jointly appointed for it by both schools,” Ghrayeb said. “It is giving me an incredible opportunity to share and connect with students, and it makes me want to contribute even more back to Penn State.”
Ghrayeb came back to campus in late March, both to attend the awards ceremony and to reconnect and engage with the SIA community. During his three days in University Park, Ghrayeb met with his former professors and presented to students in several SIA classes. He was admittedly unsure of exactly what to say to students that would be valuable, but in the end really enjoyed that time.
“It’s been wonderful to be able to share my experiences and advice with students, and I think they took something away from it. But I learned more about myself through this process, and I believe it benefitted me as much as it did the students.”
The sound advice he offered to students was based on what helped him to reach his current level of success in his career; project engineer with the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission. He encouraged students to take advantage of all opportunities while on-campus, and to treat assignments as more than a grade, but rather a story for their future cover letter, a chance to build their portfolios. He also strongly encouraged students to treat every job, even if it’s not a dream job, as a way to prepare for the next adventure. He even encouraged students to find someone in his LinkedIn connections that they would like to connect with and ask him to make an introduction.
“I’m always more than happy to help fellow SIA family.”
The Alumni Achievement Award is given annually by the Penn State Alumni Association to recognize the outstanding accomplishments of alumni 35 years of age and younger. Recipients are nominated by their respective college or campus, and are invited to return to Penn State to share their expertise with students and the community. Ghrayeb was one of 15 alumni honored in 2019.