Klaus-Dieter Heinze, a graduate of the Faculty of Chemistry of Voronezh State University, the Head of the chemical/industrial technopark Dow Olefinverbund GmbH Leiter ValuePark (Germany), initiator of the German Alumni Association, told us why he values the degree he got at the Faculty of Chemistry of VSU, what international companies expect from job-seekers, and why the Alumni Association is so important.
“I came to study at Voronezh State University after I finished the 12th grade. It was an exchange programme between the GDR and the USSR. I studied here between 1968 and 1973. I did the High-Molecular Compositions programme at the Faculty of Chemistry. At first, I did not even know where exactly Voronezh was, but 5 year later I had seen almost every part of the Soviet Union. It was an incredibly exciting life,” said Klaus-Dieter Heinze.
Education in the GDR vs. education in the USSR
“At that time the facilities in Germany were at a much higher level. It should be noted that it did not influence my impression of VSU. The Faculty of Chemistry had wonderful staff. They taught us to think, study, and find a solution to a problem even if we did not have the required equipment. We developed algorithms for challenging problems on our own. Now, with all the experience that I have, when I look back I can say that was really valuable for a future specialist.”
“When I came to Voronezh I had just finished school. I had not had any special training, had studied a normal programme and, frankly speaking, had not paid a lot of attention to the language. Of course, when I learnt about the upcoming trip I started to put more effort in the language. Still, 6 month is too little time. In August, in Voronezh, I had a short course and in September I joined the programme with the rest of the students. It was not easy, but thanks to the enormous support from the staff and my group mates and a good knowledge of Chemistry that I had received in Germany in the 12th grade, it helped me to overcome all the difficulties of the first year. Then I made myself at home and the language stopped to be a problem.”
A German student in Russia
“When studying at VSU, I made a lot of friends. You should understand that we went to the USSR not only to study but to live there and learn more about its culture and people. I had it all: trips with students from various faculties all over the country, camping, meetings at the Venevitinovo recreation facility. We felt at home among Russians. Most importantly, we have a lot of good memories about the country and the people. I cherish these memories.”
“When I returned from Voronezh, I started working at a Buna chemical plant (Buna – Werke Schkopau, now DOW Central Germany, BSL), one of the largest chemical industry plants in the GDR. I carried out research there and joined a team which was involved in active cooperation with the USSR. The knowledge that I had received at the university was not enough, but it was a good start for my future career. I tried to combine theory and practice: I learnt more about all production stages because to my mind such experience is absolutely necessary for a good executive.”
The German Alumni Association (DAWU): activities and goals
“There are over 2,000 graduates of Voronezh State University in Germany. There is a great interest in VSU, Voronezh, and Russia. When creating the Association we wanted it to be a working organisation. And we made it. People meet and remember the time they spent at the university. Once a year, we hold a meeting at the Russian Culture and Research Centre in Berlin which gathers over a hundred people. Some meetings we hold sporadically in different parts of the country. This year, we met in Rostock and celebrated the 50th anniversary since the day when German chemistry students first came to study at VSU.
The Association was created, firstly, to thank the university for the memorable time we spent there, to contribute to expanding the university’s connections abroad, and to influence the relations between the university and German business partners, which I consider the most important issue. Secondly, the Association provides us with an opportunity to meet and communicate with each other and with Russian friends and colleagues. These relations are invaluable.”
A message to students
“First of all, study hard. Take a critical view of any information and learn to analyse it. Secondly, learn to think independently, do not wait till somebody tells you what to do, show initiative, and do not be afraid of making mistakes. Keep on thinking about what can be done to accomplish a task and how to do it the best possible way. Thirdly, make a conscious choice as to which programme to take. When you are a student everything seems easy: you enter university, you do tests, you pass exams. Everything is according to a plan which has been made for you. Unfortunately, one day you graduate from university and you need to understand what was the purpose of your education and how to use it in real life. Graduates who work in an area that differs from their degree means a waste of resources for the country.
Employers’ requirements for young specialists
“You have to speak at least two foreign languages. You can not do without this today. You have to be mobile. It means you need to be prepared for business trips, hardships, and to be out of your comfort zone. I think it is a good idea for Russian students to spend a couple of terms abroad to expand their horizons, see the world, and meet people from other countries. The connections that we build when students can be useful for all our life and you should understand that contacts are very important. You have to be able to work in a team and take responsibility. It’s not always the executive who has a final say in a matter. It’s very important to be able to work independently.