EDINBURG - Although Tao Yang has traveled halfway around the globe to pursue his master's degree, he has still found remnants of his homeland here in the Rio Grande Valley.
Tao Yang, 30, of Beijing, China, is the first to graduate from The University of Texas-Pan American new computer science master's degree program.
Yang arrived in the Rio Grande Valley in September 1997, after spending six months as a research assistant at a Wyoming university.
"Wyoming was the first U.S. experience I had after leaving China," Yang said. "I didn't spend much time outside of the university, so I really didn't get a good look at the United States until I reached the Rio Grande Valley."
Yang said what he did discover in the Rio Grande Valley seemed vary familiar to him.
"The culture here is very similar to the Chinese culture," Yang said. "There is a very strong feeling towards family unity here. The families are very close knit just like back in China."
Although Yang did find similarities, he also found great differences between the two countries.
"I feel so free here in the United States," Yang said. "The possibilities seem endless here, you can go anywhere you want and almost do anything you want."
According to Yang, people in China are only allowed to work within the city in which they were born.
"It is a little difficult getting familiar with these new laws where you are allowed to do so much," Yang said. "It is difficult, but not impossible."
Between teaching six classes as a part-time teaching assistant at The University of Texas-Pan American and participating in the new computer science masters program, Yang has spent most of his spare time between books.
But according to Yang, the many hours he has dedicated to studying has paid off. Yang is the first UTPA student to graduate from the UTPA computer science master's program as well as the first student in the computer science masters program to receive a teaching assistantship.
"I always wanted to learn about computer science," Yang said. "While I was in China I studied a little in computers, but in China computer technology is very limited. Here in the United States, there is so much to learn."
Yang also carries a perfect 4.0 grade point average, but he said the job market requires more than that.
"Out in the real world, people who are looking to hire you for a job don't care how high your GPA is," he said. "You have to have learned the material and know how to use it to get a good job."
Pearl Brazier, chair of the Department of Computer Science at UTPA, said Yang completed the 36 semester hour program in a year and a half, six month ahead of schedule.
"He is a very capable person," Brazier said. "The average time is usually about two years."
Dr. Xiannong Meng, assistant professor of computer science at UTPA, attended the same university in China as Yang did.
"Yang is an excellent student who came to UTPA with an engineering background. He contacted me through the Internet, and I encouraged him to attend," Meng said. "He is very focused and picked up the computer skills very quickly."
Yang said he chose UTPA for the services offered.
"I looked at some bigger schools, but those schools didn't offer the same kind of services you get here," Yang said. "The bigger name schools don't focus on the individual student like they do here at this school, and classes are usually taught by teaching assistants, and here you actually get to ask questions directly to the professor."
Yang said after obtaining his master's degree, he is looking forward to finding a job as a systems analyst.
"I am hoping to work for about five years before pursuing my doctorate degree," he said. "I'm hoping to one day go back to China, but not for a while. There is still a lot to learn in the United States."