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Plastics Technology has given Elena a competitive edge in the job market

Elena Lezhneva

Born in Siberia, near the Russian border with China and Kazakhstan, Elena Lezhneva has come a long way to study at Arcada, and it has been worth it. Set to graduate with a Bachelor’s Degree in Plastics Technology in December 2012, Elena is confident that the programme’s hands-on approach has given her an invaluable edge in the international job market.

The journey that led Elena to Arcada isn’t best described by counting kilometres, though. The road was winding in many ways. After high school, she enrolled at the renowned St. Petersburg University of Economics and Finance to study accounting and financial analysis. This was a choice, she admits, that was influenced by her mother’s accounting profession. However, after two years, she became ‘bored’. She decided to leave St. Petersburg for Helsinki and enrol in the Degree Programme in Plastics Technology at Arcada, while at the same time finishing her Bachelor’s Degree in accounting and financial analysis via distance studies.

She found her motivation again in a surrounding that she describes as helpful, sympathetic and understanding.
– During the initial studies, when we went through the basics of chemistry, it was clear that the teachers at Arcada understood the needs of international students. It felt like you were among friends, she says. 

Breaking the ice

Elena admits that when she first arrived in Finland she found that she had much in common with other international students – a natural reaction, of course, when it came to adapting to a new culture that was quite different from her own. It didn’t take long before she grew closer to her Finnish Swedish classmates.
– The Düsseldorf Plastics and Rubber Fair was one of the events which brought us closer together. We planned and raised funds for the trip together, and we had a good time in Germany. The ice had been broken, she says.

Plastics technology has traditionally been a male-dominated field, but Elena was determined to hold her own.
– I wanted to take on a challenge. If something is too easy you lose motivation, you know, she says with a laugh.

A hands-on approach

One aspect that impressed Elena was the practical, hands-on approach in the Plastics Technology programme.
– The tradition of visiting companies is one of the best parts of the programme, she says. It also felt great to see that even if the machines that they were using were bigger, they were similar to the ones at the Plastics Laboratory at Arcada.

Another interesting and useful part of her studies was the entrepreneurship course, which is a compulsory component of the three-month work placement programme. She worked in a team that was tasked to devise a solution for plastic hip implant wear and come up with technical recommendations.
– That was a great course that really increased my motivation and sharpened my focus, Elena says.

The journey continues

Elena will be graduating in December and heading for New Zealand to work for a company specialising in the manufacturing and sale of health care products. It is an amazing opportunity, but definitely not an undeserved one. Elena feels that after five years of not only studying, but also working with plastics, she has a clear advantage in the job market. Very few universities in the world offer a practical, hands-on programme in this field.
− One of our instructors once famously said that, for a potential employer, there is a huge difference between a job seeker who says that: “I saw this machine in a book and now I need six months to learn how to operate it”, and one who says that: “I have used this kind of machine, now give me a week or two to master it”.