Young Alum Travels to China to Study With a Nobel-Prize Winning Economist

Iqbal Sherif pictured above in China, where he spent the summer studying business and working as an intern for a Chinese company.

Iqbal Sherif has a passion for learning, whether it be science, engineering, business or medicine. He loves to explore and learn new things and to be challenged intellectually.

He graduated from the Albert Dorman Honors College in May with a double major in biochemistry and engineering science.While a student at NJIT, he also worked on research projects with prominent professors in the fields of physics, chemistry and engineering.

Though he excels in science and engineering, Sherif spent the past summer in Beijing, China, studying with Edmund Phelps, a Nobel Prize-winning economist. Phelps recently founded the internationally respected New Huadu Business School in Beijing. This summer, the school sponsored a six-week long Consulting Internship Program that accepted top students from around the world. Sherif was not only accepted into the program but was awarded a full scholarship. He spent six weeks living in China, taking classes at the business school and doing an internship at one of China’s largest agriculture companies, the New Hope Group. It was, in his words, an experience of a lifetime, combining foreign travel with a study of China's business practices as well as an immersion into Chinese culture. Cick here to see a slideshow of his journey in China.

And in this interview, Sherif talks about China, his research experiences at NJIT and his plans for the future.

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Did you like studying in China? What was it like?

This was my first time in China and I loved it. It was an once-in-a-lifetime experience to study and work in one of the fastest developing countries in the world while also learning about its fascinating history. I was mostly in Beijing, but visited other parts of China. After a week of taking business classes and studying Mandarin, the school placed us with our respective companies, where we interned as business consultants.

Those who administer the school are powerful people; some are from Peking University and others are former presidents of companies such as Cisco (China). Edmund Phelps (a Nobel Prize winner) served as the dean of the school and created the curriculum. In the program there were around 25 students mainly from the U.S, ranging in schools from University of California to Harvard University.  

Why did you want to study business in China?    

China is one of the most maturing countries in the world. So this is where all the action is and I wanted to be a part of it. Throughout my stay I was able to experience Chinese culture from various aspects, ranging from folk art to royal architecture, encompassing both ancient and modern China. This experience granted me a deeper understanding of the rich culture of China as well as its business practices.

Can you talk about your internship at New Hope Group?

It was hard. My team was comprised of five people who were also from the U.S. We all had diverse backgrounds but most had some sort of business-discipline background. New Hope Group is a multinational company and is one of the largest animal feed producers in China. We researched how New Hope can find new resources in the growing food value chain and continue further expansion. Throughout the duration of the project, we provided several key service offerings including merger and acquisition due diligence, competitor evaluation, corporate strategy development and much more.

How did you get to do research at NJIT?

Two prominent NJIT professors, Andrew Gerrard and Louis Lanzerotti are a part of NJIT’s Solar Terrestrial Center. I had the good fortune to assist them with data analysis using MATLAB coding for the NASA Voyagers. The previous summer I had happened to be in Cape Canaveral, Florida, and saw the launch of the Atlas V, which carried an instrument created by Professor Lanzerotti. I wrote to him and told him I saw the launch and was interested in solar physics. I spoke to him for a while and he saw how interested I was in the science, so he and Professor Gerrard gave me the chance to assist them in the Solar Terrestrial Center.

Didn’t you also do research for a startup company?

I was a researcher for Andrew Hines, whose company, Starship Enterprises LLC., was located in NJIT’s business incubator, the Enterprise Development Center. He was working on several prototypes and I was involved in the analysis and development of new medical devices. One of them was called the SitAssist, a device he designed to ease the transfer of patients from a wheelchair to a bed. One of the firm’s devices recently was awarded second place at Idea and Demo Day sponsored by the New Jersey Technology Council.

Were your other research projects also in science?

Yes, I did organic chemistry research in the biomedical engineering department, under the direction of Professor Willis Hammond. I was also a part of a research project for the chemistry department. The study was under Professor Zafar Iqbal and involved the use of bio-fuel cells and carbon nano-tubes to generate power supply and stability for medical devices. Professor Iqbal would always mention to me that it’s good to have a broad knowledge base but with a specific goal in mind. I am currently working on the bio-fuel cell project with him, in hopes to help him publish a paper.

You also shadowed a doctor at what was then UMDNJ but is now Rutgers New Jersey Medical School.

I shadowed an anesthesiologist (Dr. Daniel Eloy) in the operating room along with volunteering in the post-surgery room. By being exposed to an array of patients, each going through a unique hardship in their life, I tried to alleviate their struggle by offering words of encouragement along with doing all the duties of a volunteer. Dr. Eloy mentored me for three years, and he always told me that to be a good doctor to patients means also being their friend. But it is important to draw a fine line so you do not let it inhibit your standing to perform at your highest ability.

What are your future plans?

My plan is to attend medical school, but I want a process of learning new skills along the way. That’s why I went to China. The skills that I learned there could be easily applied to any field I enter. I entered a foreign culture and had to adapt and succeed. It is crucial to have an open mind and welcome diversity so that you grow as a strong and independent person. I’m sure medical school will also offer me such a challenge. 

What got you interested in medicine?

My good friend Brandon James died in 2009. He was born with an enlarged heart and it was during a basketball game when he collapsed and started having a seizure. I want it to be clear that this incident is not why I want to join the medical field. But through this experience I developed a sense of empathy, so now it is a little easier to say 'I understand' when I comfort people who are going through a medical struggle. Volunteering at the medical school for the past three years also deepened my empathy with patients and people. We all need a helping hand sometimes.

By Robert Florida