Arsen Yerlan is pictured far right.
As it has for many, the past two years haven’t gone entirely as planned for soon-to-be Colorado State University graduate Arsen Yerlan.
In the middle of his studies in Soil and Crop Sciences in the College of Agricultural Sciences, concerns regarding the COVID-19 pandemic meant Yerlan had to return to his home country of Kazakhstan to be near family.
The 13-hour time difference between Kazakhstan and Fort Collins meant a lot of late nights and early mornings as he worked to complete his courses online and earn his degree. But it also made him grateful for the time he was able to spend on campus, he said. Particularly a trip with CSU’s soil judging team to San Luis Obispo, California, in 2019.
“I had the once in a lifetime opportunity to go out to a location with diverse soils and apply my soil judging skills in practice,” he said. “In the process, I bonded with my teammates and deepened my knowledge of soil science — and I got to go on an exciting road trip.”
Nominator and undergraduate academic success coordinator Chris Amerman said Yerlan’s ability to stay on track to graduate and maintain a 3.96 GPA speaks to his determination.
“Arsen has dealt with numerous struggles on his way to graduation due to the pandemic and being an international student,” Amerman said. “He’s had to take so many of his online classes at strange times of day while abroad, and he stayed strong and persevered through it all to graduate.”
Yerlan said he plans to continue his studies through a master’s program so that he may continue to develop his skills in the field of soil and crop sciences. He’s especially excited to gain more hands-on experience in the field.
In their own words
Q. What was the most rewarding part of your CSU experience?
I think that the most rewarding experience I had at CSU was exploring many professions and getting to meet very nice people. Coming in as a freshman, I did not have a clear picture of what kind of field I wanted to work in. However, CSU allowed me to start my academic journey as an undeclared student, and thus, I was able to take courses from various fields ranging from geology, theatre, soil and crops, and more!
I don’t think that I would have had the same opportunity to “try a little bit of everything” if I had studied at a different university because I would have had to take additional courses once I picked a major. At CSU, though, these courses that I took during the exploration period counted towards my graduation, which was a huge advantage. When I eventually came to the decision to become a soil and crops major, I not only was on track toward graduation, but I also felt like I completed a very important phase of my academic journey.
Additionally, I would say that studying at CSU helped me make connections with nice, smart and fun people. I was never the “open, outgoing” type to begin with; it takes some time for me to open up to people and friendships. However, when I started interacting with other international students, faculty and my classmates in Soil and Crop Sciences, I felt welcome to the University’s diverse community. I learned a lot and found great support from my professors, and I made friends with students, hung out with them and tried new hobbies that I would not have done by myself.
Q. What obstacles, if any, did you have to overcome to reach graduation?
Like hundreds of thousands of people around the world, COVID was a stick in the wheel to many of my plans at CSU. Before the pandemic, I expected to complete my studies in person and gain valuable, hands-on experience in work related to plant breeding and analyzing soils. However, when we all switched to online education, I had to push away these plans for another time. Also, at the end of the Spring 2020 semester, I had to return to my home country, Kazakhstan, to be with family, because the pandemic situation was becoming more and more tenuous by the day. Subsequently, I was not able to return to the U.S. to resume my studies in person, and thus, I had to continue my studies fully online for the next three semesters.
“I am very grateful to my family for supporting me at home and creating all the conditions necessary for a convenient ‘online’ learning environment. With their love and support, I was able to succeed in all my studies these past three semesters regardless of how late I had to stay up to complete assignments.”
I am very grateful to my family for supporting me at home and creating all the conditions necessary for a convenient “online” learning environment. With their love and support, I was able to succeed in all my studies these past three semesters regardless of how late I had to stay up to complete assignments.
Q. What is your advice to incoming students at CSU?
I would recommend that you all talk with many people, both faculty and students, during your first semester at CSU. This goes for all the introverts as well, because you might just make a great friend that will help you discover Fort Collins and will support you during challenging times. Also, you may learn about professions and extracurricular activities that will be interesting to you and that could shape the trajectory of your future career.
Another suggestion that I would like to make as you embark on this journey of discovery at CSU: Never forget about your roots. Whether you are a U.S. resident coming from a different state or an international student coming from a different country, cherish your culture and traditions and show them proudly to the CSU community. Always stay connected with those at home who raised you and love you, and try to find and support people that come from similar backgrounds as you.