Student Spotlight Borogchingua Zorigtbaatar

Borogchingua Zorigtbaatar poses in the Spine in between the Student Union and the ECB
Borogchingua "Boro" Zorigtbaatar poses for a photo in the Spine between the Student Union and the ECB after the March Career fair at UAA.

 Borochingua Zorigtbaatar, or Boro for short, is a UAA student in the computer science program who came to Alaska from Mongolia.

“Alaska is a really welcoming place,” she said. “Before I came here, I heard that Alaskans are some of the nicest Americans. Now I can tell that this is true.”

Boro started learning English at 17. Her family supported her desire to transfer to a different high school that would give her the tools to upgrade her education and expand her opportunities. Soon she would be moving to Seattle to begin college.

She found American culture to be surprisingly familiar. “Maybe because of social media or because it is the 21st century, it wasn’t as big a shock as I expected,” she said. The weather, on the other hand, proved to be a challenge. The gloomy skies over Seattle were a far cry from the sunshine Boro was used to in her part of Mongolia.

After completing her first year of college, a friend messaged Boro when she discovered that Erdenet, her hometown in Mongolia, was part of a sister city program at UAA that enabled international students to pay the in-state tuition rate. “As a student, every dollar matters,” Boro said. “So I got on a plane to Alaska.”

And after arriving, she found other opportunities at UAA to support her educational goals. Due to her heavy involvement in student life, Boro has landed several prestigious scholarships over the years, awards through the UAA Multicultural Center and other leadership and community service awards. “Between the scholarships, in-state tuition, and my student jobs, it has really helped make college affordable,” Boro said.

One of Boro's most meaningful experiences at UAA has been her involvement in clubs, both as a member of the Society of Women Engineers and as a leader of the Computer Science Club. Like many other informal organizations, the CS Club lost momentum during the pandemic. "Last year, the CS Club was completely dead," Boro said. But she worked with some peers and professors to revive it.

"We wanted to bring it back to help computer science students feel more connected to each other," she said. "We wanted students to have a place where they could engage in extracurricular activities, a place where they could network and have more information about potential jobs."

Of course, life as an international student isn’t perfect. While Alaskans may pride themselves on a strong sense of community, this can have a negative effect on those who come from outside the state. Boro has had trouble entering professional spaces, seeing companies hire staff and interns almost exclusively from Alaska. While she recognizes there are logistical hurdles to hiring international candidates, Boro wants more companies to put forward that effort and open their doors to job candidates like her, which she believes would help Alaska to achieve its full potential.

“Alaska is experiencing a sort of social crisis,” she said. “A lot of people are leaving the state, but very few are moving in. International students could help to fill that gap.”

That said, she has highly valued her time studying computer science at UAA. She has gained a broad knowledge base, learning about data structures, coding, hardware, and more. Importantly, she has also gained the capacity to keep up with her ever-changing field.

“In computer science, you never know what the next big thing is going to be,” Boro said. “You do not know what it is going to be like in one or two years, let alone in five or ten. So you have to always keep learning”

For incoming computer science students, she has a few pieces of advice based on her experience: “Be resourceful — apply for scholarships, find a campus job, get to know your classmates and your professors.”

“And, of course,” she adds with a laugh, “join the Computer Science Club!”