Nóra Kovács was part of the first batch of international students to join the Zhejiang University-University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Institute (the ZJU-UIUC Institute, ZJUI) and graduated with a degree in Civil Engineering in 2021. A native Hungarian, Nóra speaks four languages: Hungarian, Chinese, English and German. Upon graduation, she received offers from many of the world's leading universities, including UC Berkeley, UIUC and TU Delft.
Beginnings: a coincidental introduction
Before coming to China, Nóra had never done two things: study abroad and travel to Asia. In fact, it was sheer coincidence that her brother introduced her to ZJUI. After learning about the institute’s mission to cultivate the next generation of talents and reading up on the background of the distinguished faculty, Nóra set her mind on ZJUI.
"I am very grateful for the students and teachers I met at ZJUI, who gave me a lot of help, and the college provided excellent teaching resources and supporting facilities." Initially faced with an unfamiliar environment and culture, Nóra’s tutors and fellow course mates were instrumental in her quickly adapting to life in Haining, where ZJUI is located. She said, "I still remember my first dinner gathering with my classmates. It was my first time having hot pot and the lively conversation made me relax immediately."
The extensive team-based coursework further integrated her into the community. Nóra was impressed by the diligent Chinese students and was determined to work hard alongside her peers. In her freshman year, she enrolled in the “Introduction to Civil Engineering” course. As part of the subject, Nóra and her classmates went on learning trips to various infrastructure facilities in China. During the field-trips, she gained a deeper understanding and appreciation of China's growth and strength in infrastructure development.
"Professors here are not only academically competent, but also full of affinity with their students. Even during the pandemic, when I was unable to come to China for classes, our communication was not interrupted." Faced with the difficulties of the global pandemic and vastly different time zones, Nóra maintained close contact with ZJUI by participating in group seminars and weekly one-to-one office hour sessions with professors. This largely alleviated the inconvenience associated with off-campus learning. "I am very grateful to the faculty and students at ZJUI for the unfailing care extended to me during the pandemic" said Nóra.
Research at UIUC
During her exchange at UIUC, Nóra carried out in-depth research as a research assistant for Prof. J. Riley Edwards. Using rail metric sensors, she collected data and improved the track defect locations of geometric vehicle inspection systems by training Deep Neural Networks (DNNs). In the process, Nóra learned how to scope research problems and developed a test plan to investigate the project’s hypothesis. The research project not only helped Nóra hone her domain expertise, it also made clear her direction for graduate studies.
Nóra said, "When it comes to science, girls are not necessarily inferior to boys! "Having demonstrated her talent in math and science since high school, it was only natural for her to join the Women in Math, Science, and Engineering (WIMSE) at UIUC.
She served as the president of UIUC's Engineers in Action (EIA) association, working on the design and construction of pedestrian bridges for third-world countries. She also actively participated in EIA meetings, organized fundraising events for the project, and explored preliminary design options for bridges. During her time with the organization, she developed a strong interest in International Relations, Cross-Cultural Communication, and volunteer work.
Beyond the Classroom
Outside of the academic sphere, Nóra could be spotted travelling around China savouring local delicacies such as Yangzhou fried rice and biangbiang noodles. A sports enthusiast, she was often seen cycling with friends, practicing yoga and rock climbing. During summer vacations, she would warmly receive Chinese students visiting Hungary and happily act as their tour guide, introducing them to the uniqueness of Hungarian culture.
Nóra’s four years at ZJUI has been nothing short of fulfilling. In this short span of time, she has experienced the charm and beauty of both the Chinese and American culture. The rich campus life, international education and cross-cultural experiences have shaped Nóra into a true global citizen.
Looking ahead, Nóra anticipates applying the skills learnt during her time at ZJUI to make infrastructure more accessible to underserved communities around the world. It is her ambition to become a civil engineer dedicated to building a sustainable society.