Sep 222008
Authors: Cece Wildeman

As he walks down the hall explaining his ongoing Ph.D. project, the rubber soles of his tennis shoes squeak on the tan tile floor. He speaks perfect English with only a slight Indian accent, using a scientific vocabulary indicating his knowledge of the project.

Ashish Sharma, an international student studying electrical engineering and molecular biology, has been at CSU for seven years, working on a project for his Ph. D. program, becoming involved with the community and discovering American culture.

Where he came from and how he got here

Sharma grew up moving from place to place in India because his father was in the military. But he says he is from New Delhi. “The capitol,” he notes.

“Coming here wasn’t a big transition because I am used to living in both big and small towns,” he said. “But I sometimes miss the hustle and bustle of a big city.”

Sharma earned his bachelor’s degree in India and decided to apply to American universities because of the quality of technology and educational programs offered.

“The U.S. has always been at the cutting edge of technology,” he said.

Although he applied to more than one university, the presence of the Rocky Mountains enabled his decision because of his love of the outdoors, he said.

When Sharma chose to leave India in 2001 and set off for America, he found support in his parents and younger brother, all of whom have come to visit him since he’s been here.

“My parents and I miss him, but are happy that he is finally finishing his Ph.D program,” Sharma’s brother, Naveen, said in an e-mail.

Ashish’s face lit up as he talked about taking time off work to see the Grand Canyon with Naveen, who is currently visiting Fort Collins.

“I actually haven’t seen my brother in seven years,” he said.

Sharma applied to CSU to work in an interdisciplinary area, where he would be able to use tools from electrical engineering as well as molecular biology, he said. But he wasn’t exactly sure what he wanted to do for his Ph.D. yet.

After taking a few classes and being steered toward a project at the electrical engineering research center by his advisor, he found a passion for the project he has been working on for the last five years: using plasmas and ionized gases to decontaminate medical instruments.

Although he has spent so much time on the project, he said he still isn’t exactly sure what he wants to do.

Culture shock: something to

think about

Sharma said he didn’t experience much culture shock in coming to the U.S. because eastern countries are often exposed to western ideals, such as self expression, by the media.

But there were some differences he noticed, though they are hard for him to remember now, he said.

“It’s a question I have to think about because I’ve been here so long I forget some of the things,” he said.

One of the smaller differences Sharma said he noticed was that people greet each other on the street and make eye contact, which isn’t common in India, he said.

But there were bigger things he noticed as well, like the “overabundance” of resources in America.

“Some of the things that we would consider precious resources [in India] are taken for granted here,” he said

He said this overabundance also leads to over-consumption in America.

“Like when you walk into a grocery store and there are a hundred different brands of cereal,” he said. “Coming from a nation with limited resources, it seems wasteful. But at the same time, there is a lot of civic consciousness.”

Sharma said he also noticed a difference in the amount of individual expression that is accepted in American culture, like in the way people dress. He said individual dress is not as common in India because they have stricter societal norms and are a more conforming society.

“We are a little more inhibited in how we would want to stand out,” he said.

Although individualism can be seen in the way people dress, Sharma said this ideal is pervasive in all of society, noting that Americans become financially independent at a much younger age than Indians.

“It’s changing though,” he said “A society is never static. We [India] are adopting a lot of western traditions.”

Community involvement . lots

of it

Although Sharma spends about 60 hours a week working on his project at the research center, he still has plenty of time to get involved with CSU and the Fort Collins community.

While here, he has been a part of various clubs and organizations, including the Fort Collins International Center, the model U.N. and the Board of Student Communications.

“For me, this is a study abroad trip,” Sharma said. “One of the aims is to understand America.”

He said overall he has had a good experience here, finding it fairly easy to meet people. Throughout his seven years here he has formed many friendships with community members and met people from varying backgrounds.

60-hour workweeks

Sharma’s workplace is located on the outskirts of Fort Collins, nestled against a hill of rocks and rubble. While it does not appear very glamorous from the outside, the work being done on the inside could change the future of medicine.

As part of his Ph. D. program, Sharma and his colleagues work with plasmas, to test how they can be used for decontamination, especially of medical instruments. This method of decontamination is faster than the current method of exposing the instruments to ultraviolet light.

For the project, Sharma grows bacteria, tests plasmas on them and compares them with bacteria that were not exposed to the plasmas.

As he walks through his lab, he points out tools he uses everyday, like a capillary electrophoresis machine and a negative 80-degree freezer.

“This freezer is actually so cold it will burn you,” he said.

As Sharma explains his work, his face lights up with passion and his hands move in expressive gestures.

He says his work is important because there are always new things to be discovered in modern science.

“Research can be very varied. There’s a lot of different stuff,” he said. “We are always trying to investigate new ways of . sterilizing or decontaminating objects, and I think plasmas are a viable alternative.”

Sharma said he works most weekdays and sometimes on the weekends, depending on the point in his project.

“Sometimes I work on the weekends because you have to work with bacteria,” he said. “They don’t work with you. They don’t work 8 to 5, ya know?’

Where he plans to go

After graduating in the spring, Sharma said he might go back to India.

With his good education background and the currently strong economy in India, he said he hopes to get a job with a research and development-consulting firm.

He said his experience in America is one that he will carry with him for the rest of his life and that the social skills he has learned here will be important when interacting with people in the future.

And although he is not quite sure what direction he would like to move with his career, his confidence and passion for electrical engineering don’t reveal any signs of discouragement.

“I love discovering new things every day and finding out there are still more things to learn,” he said. “The sky’s not the limit.”

Entertainment Editor Cece Wildeman can be reached at

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