About the love of education, work and conducting STEM courses for teachers

Tell us a little about yourself – when did you finish your studies at NU, where do you work now?

Good afternoon! My name is Yerlan Uteulin, and I was a part of the second full-time MBA cohort at Nazarbayev University Graduate School of Business. After graduating in November 2016, I decided to enter the education sector, taking a job at the National School of Physics and Math (Fizmat).

Why did you choose to work in the field of education?

Whenever you have a new academic program like NU’s MBA, you’re going to find that the first few cohorts are full of people who are a bit more willing than normal to take risks and try something new. My classmates inspired me a lot to look beyond the jobs I was offered in the banking and financial sector and go for something that I really believed in. The education sphere had always been interesting, and I saw that I had a chance to do something useful for society and improve the level of education in Kazakhstan. More importantly, I realized that my MBA gave me a real advantage – modern schools need to be organized efficiently and take a big-picture approach to producing graduates that can make a difference in the world. They have a duty to innovate even better than businesses.

Of course, I will not hide the fact that I had some doubts. The deciding factor for me was that I was able to find other professionals in education that shared my desire for new experiences and a vision for a better society. I also saw that this opportunity would put me in touch with people who could teach me a lot in terms of project management, organizational strategy, and team leadership skills. I’ve never regretted my choice.  

Now, I am a member of the Board of Fizmat and I am involved in various projects related to the introduction of new teaching methods, cooperation with international organizations, educational training for teachers from other schools, etc. With the support of Chevron, we have initiated plans starting in March of this year to travel across Kazakhstan and conduct on-site workshops for teachers in urban and rural schools. It’s projects like these – to make the learning process become more interesting and useful and see students empowered to independently solve problems they are passionate about – that make my work really fulfilling.

Tell us more about this project – how the idea came to start it, and its current state.

In fact, Fizmat implements many projects, both local and international. This latest effort is closely related to our previous work offering STEM courses for teachers throughout Kazakhstan. We rolled out these trainings locally in 2017 and in 2019 decided to make them available nationally.

Like any organization, we succeed because of our people. Our teachers have themselves been previously trained by foreign experts in the field of education, and they used their newfound knowledge and existing teaching experience to share the latest in educational developments with their colleagues outside the major urban centers. I would say that top to bottom, Fizmat shares the same goal of improving the quality of STEM teaching in the country. We believe that by educating over 2,000 teachers, we will be able to instill a countrywide love of science in more than 400,000 of the nation’s students.

In the second half of this year we plan to hold the National Festival for STEM Teachers. This event will be prepared exclusively for teachers to demonstrate their projects and share best practices with their colleagues. The Festival’s philosophy is “From Teacher to Teacher”, which implies an unselfish desire to share their knowledge. This event is meant to be collaborative in spirit, and should not be seen as a competitive one, there is no plan to award any prizes or gifts at the close of the event as is often done.

What did NU give you? Did the knowledge acquired at the university help your life?

As you know, if all you want is to acquire knowledge about a topic, you can use the Internet. Therefore, I would rather not speak about knowledge as such, but instead, focus on the irreplaceable things I acquired at Nazarbayev University.

First of all, I cannot stress enough the benefit of a global mindset. Professors from around the world helped us to reshape our perspectives and see our goals in a new light. Everything we accomplish in Kazakhstan can be shared on a wider scale. For example, we have already held an Olympiad at Fizmat for primary school students, where six countries took part. Our summer camps are in high demand with participants from five countries, and even our trainings have extended their reach into other countries in Central Asia.

Secondly, the loyal friends that I made at NU have been far more than just the networking contacts most people expect to make at business school. They have become part of my everyday life, my holidays, and we are always ready to work on implementing joint projects.

Finally, I gained confidence in my own abilities at NU. I must say that the whole environment that surrounds you at the Graduate School of Business is very good at supporting students and cultivating the confidence that we can do anything. Professors, peers, administrators, even the school building and the campus as a whole are a part of our support system. The fourteen months of my MBA passed by quickly, but they gave me a huge boost of energy and faith to carry out my ambitions. Most importantly, ever since I finished my relatives proudly say about me, “he studied at NU!” [laughs].