Ruhr Fellow returns to the Ruhr area

Ruhr Fellow returns to the Ruhr area

Harvard graduate and Ruhr Fellowship alumnus Matt Pasquini will move to Essen this summer to start a job at ista International GmbH

Matthew Pasquini is a Ruhr Fellow alumnus and student at Harvard University, one of the most prestigious universities in the world. In 2014, Matt came to the Ruhr area for the very first time as a participant of the Ruhr Fellowship Program offered by the University Alliance Ruhr (RUB, University of Duisburg-Essen, and TU Dortmund University). This summer he returns to start a job at ista international GmbH, one of the member companies of the Initiativkreis Ruhr. In cooperation with that one, the UA Ruhr annually offers the Ruhr Fellowships for students from Harvard University, Princeton University, University of Pennsylvania, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and University of California, Berkeley. In the following interview Matt tells about his experience in Germany and why he is coming back to the Ruhr Valley.

Hi Matt, can you introduce yourself and tell us a bit about your academic background?
I’m a senior at Harvard and study Astrophysics and Physic as a concentration and Environmental Science and Public Policy as a secondary field. I got into physics and astrophysics in high school, and then I started my first year and really liked it. Currently I am doing a little bit of research on the structure of the Milky Way, which is my general focus. In addition, I have studied Economics and I’m taking general educational courses. Although I don’t have any concrete plans for graduate school yet, I could see myself doing something in Europe.

Once you got accepted into the Ruhr Fellowship program, what did you expect, and how did these two months in Germany shape your career goals?
I honestly did not know what to expect because before the program started, I had never been on a plane before, let alone outside the US, and so I was very excited. Having studied German for two years already, I was really excited about using my language skills. I was also looking forward to working outside the university. Even though we are involved in research projects here at the university, I couldn’t wait to find out about applied research in the industry. For me, the Ruhr Fellowship program was a huge success in both areas. I could practice my German and get into to the language much more than I could have at the university. And I loved the company and gained valuable insights into a fast-paced sort of an industry environment.

Tell us a bit more about your experience at ista international GmbH, what did you do at this company during your 2014 Ruhr Fellowship?
A leading company providing energy management services, ista creates transparency in energy usage in residential and commercial properties. By creating, designing and producing metering devices, they make individual energy and water consumption transparent. With their data management system, ista visualizes data so that users know how much energy they are using. Thus everyone can individually control their consumption and learn about conserving energy at home. It is one of those everyone wins situations, because in an apartment building, for example, renters use less energy and lower their monthly energy expenditures while landlords are saving as well if less energy is consumed. Ultimately, the big winner is the environment.
The team at ista was really cool and contributed to a collaborative environment. I worked in the development lab with a bunch of IT specialists and technicians developing new products. With all the different departments at the company directly interconnected, it was a lot of fun to experience how collaboration works. My colleagues seemed really happy with their work and their company, which made working there a pleasurable experience.

What motivates you to come back to the Ruhr area?
I think most of what motivated me to come back revolves around the job. I really like the company, and I really like the job. The Ruhr area itself was pretty nice. It seems like a livable place, maybe not quite as exciting as New York City, but it is in the center of Europe, so you can easily go to different places. The area struck me as very green, and public transportation was much better than here in Boston. People were friendly, and living expenses are not nearly as high as they are here.

Do you remember a moment of culture shock?
One of my co-workers who lives in Wuppertal and commutes to work every day, always talked about his hometown. He wanted to take me there and show me around. So one day, he asked me “Hey Matt, do you want to come to Wuppertal one day?” and I said “Yes, that sounds lovely.” And he said “Great” and immediately pulled out his calendar to discuss possible dates. Something like that just doesn’t happen here in the US, where people would be reluctant to commit right away. While here on campus in the US, for example, you say things like “Hey, we should get a meal sometime,” you don’t actually plan to meet again.

What is the difference between the metropolitan area of Cambridge/Boston and the Ruhr area?
Like I said, public transportation is much better in the Ruhr area. It seems to me that there is also a better work-life balance. Both regions are very focused on maintaining a clean environment, and there is a lot of culture in/around Boston and in the Ruhr area. Over the last decades, the Ruhr area has developed very quickly with a lot of new constructions going up. While cities get modernized, there is much attention paid to sustainability. In terms of their size, both places are really similar. They are compact enough for you to get around easily, which came as a surprise to me.

Where else did you go in Germany and in Europe?
I visited Berlin and went to Munich and Münster. All of the Ruhr Fellows got the “Semester Ticket,” so public transportation was free for us, and there are a lot of cities in NRW: Cologne, Bonn, Dusseldorf and Aachen. I think Munster was my favorite city. With additional visits to Vienna, Amsterdam and Brussels, we were very busy on most weekends. I went to Freiburg for hiking, but unfortunately I was sick that weekend, so that wasn’t the most fun time. Every city in Germany and in Europe has its very own charm. Now when I go back I can take it more slowly.

What advice would you give to students who might consider applying to the Ruhr Fellowship program?
It is such a good program, as it introduces you to connections that will prove to be extremely useful later in your life. I don’t just mean people you meet at work but actually making friends in Europe. And then there is the prospect of possibly getting a job in Europe. You get a whole spectrum of possibilities. Just keep an open mind, and I think you’ll get along with the company. If you are looking to shape up your German, this program offers you a really good opportunity to do it. You have a lot of group excursions, and it sometimes feel a bit like a summer camp character. But for someone who had never traveled before, this is a great and comfortable way to get used to a new environment and get to see the area in a very independent sort of way. Facing a couple of challenges along the way is part of the experience of living in another part of the world for a while. I got a lot of help from Harvard’s International Office and from Ruth Sondermann, the contact person for the program at our university. She was the one who introduced us to the program. I just highly recommend the Ruhr Fellowship Program.

- Christian Riechel, University Alliance Ruhr, New York, conducted the interview.

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