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Dr. Nevin Mutlu

Nevin's story

I come from an immigrant family, which moved to Turkey when I was very young and settled in Inegol – a small town in the province of Bursa. Growing up in an immigrant family with humble roots, I realized early in life that education was the only way to build a good future for myself. 

I have always been good in school, but I was also very lucky to have parents who really cared about my education. Thanks to their guidance (and my hard work), I got into Robert College with full scholarship in high school, and I moved to Istanbul as a boarding student. Coming from a public school system in a small town in Anatolia, this prestigious private high school in Istanbul was full of surprises (and also challenges) for me, but most importantly, it was the place where I started to have a perspective in life and dream bigger.

In my junior year in high school, I took part in an exchange program and lived in the US for a year with a host family. When I came back, I knew that I wanted to go back to the US for college. Unfortunately though, the expenses would be simply out of my family’s budget, so I started looking for scholarships. One day my college counselor in high school summoned me to her room, and told me about the YEF scholarship which provided full funding for four years of undergraduate education at the University at Buffalo (UB). By that time, YEF had already funded two students (Emrah and Emre), and one of those students (Emre) was from my high school. Of course, I got very excited about this opportunity, but I was also trying not to get “too excited” as there were also other students who had applied for the same scholarship. 

In the spring of 2007 in Istanbul, I was interviewed by Steven Shaw, who is now the Assistant Vice Provost and Director of International Admissions at University at Buffalo. On the day of my high school graduation ceremony, my college counselor broke the news that I was the student selected for the YEF scholarship. It was such an emotional day. By that time, I had already taken the Turkish national college entrance exam, and had accepted the fact that I might not get the YEF scholarship since it funded only one student. After a few days of digesting these happy news, I immediately wanted to get in touch with the former YEF students. In a short time period, my family and I met with Emrah in Istanbul and listened to all the stories that he had to tell. What stroke me the most was that he not only talked about the school and the excellent education he got, but also the supportive, family-like environment of YEF. My family and I also talked to Emre’s mom, and she couldn’t be more positive. All these meetings were so reassuring for me and my family, so I decided to take the challenge of studying at UB. 

On the day of my flight to New York, both Emrah and Emre’s mom were at the airport along with my family. So, I already started to feel like I was becoming a part of a larger YEF family that I was told about. This feeling only got stronger when I arrived in Buffalo, where I was greeted by Emre. Emre has been so helpful to me, helping me to move to my dorm, introducing me to his friends, and inviting me to different activities. Thanks to him, I had an easier transition to the life in Buffalo; it was great to know that someone from the family was there if I needed extra support.

Thanks to the generous financial support of YEF, I could fully focus on my studies at UB without the pressure of earning an additional income. As a result, I obtained a dual degree: a BA in Economics and a BS in Industrial and Systems Engineering. At the same time, I could still do fun activities such as organizing Turkish days at UB every year, going on ski trips, traveling to Miami during spring break, and many more. In all this time, I never felt disconnected from the YEF family. I was invited to Thanksgiving celebrations with the family of Matt Yıldızlar (our “Ahmet Abi” as we call him), and also my first trip to New York City with Matt and Emre.

All these experiences helped me to broaden my horizon, and made me a world citizen with connection not only to the YEF family, but also to many other people from diverse backgrounds. Hence, I believe that the YEF scholarship goes beyond providing only an excellent academic training – it is about invaluable experiences for personal growth and professional success. 

Thanks to my experience at UB, I could immediately start a fully funded PhD degree at Virginia Tech after graduation, and I am now a professor at a prestigious university in the Netherlands. The young immigrant girl in the 1990s in Inegol could have never dreamed of this and the journey along the way. 

Being an academic myself, it is my dream to inspire other young people, and have the same transformative experience that I’ve had through education. This is why I am excited to give back to the community, and I very much look forward to meeting the next YEF student.

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