News

Driven
Author: John Kirkland
Posted: June 4, 2019

Engineering student Shepol Meman is on the highway to success.

SHEPOL MEMAN’S parents fled Kurdistan in northern Iraq in 1996—a time when Saddam Hussein was in power, and American-related organizations and the people working for them were coming under threat. Meman’s father worked for one of them: the Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance in the city of Erbil. They left quickly, and didn’t take much with them.
Meman, in his mother’s womb, was just a few months away from birth.

The family spent two months in an immigration camp in Guam, then moved to San Francisco, and then to Portland—a city, they learned, that was a great place to raise a family. Meman was born soon after.

“When I hear these stories, it brings a tear to my eye,” he says. “They came to a new life—a new beginning—with nothing. No opportunity lined up for themselves. They just jumped right in.”

That same fearlessness, along with an eye for opportunity, persistence and a willingness to work hard, are the hallmarks of Meman’s personality. They’re big reasons why he’s such a successful student at Portland State. 

The 22-year-old mechanical engineering major has a passion for cars. Until last fall, he was one of the leaders of the 40-member student group Viking Motorsports Portland State Formula SAE, which received a $30,000 sponsorship from Tektronix to build an electric formula car, which the team will take to an international competition in June. 

The experience gave him a glimpse into what it’s like to be a real-world engineer. He liked it, and looking back, he can’t believe his luck.

“I never thought I’d have the opportunity to be working on these vehicles and get hands-on experience with milling machines, lathes, CNCs (computer numeric control tools)—tools directly associated with manufacturing,” he says.

Meman also loves the fact that his professors are working engineers with years of experience in the field. A couple of them worked on the Sellwood Bridge reconstruction, and related their firsthand experience to their students. 

“It’s one of the coolest things for me,” he says.

A LOVE for cars and innovation led Meman to Daimler Trucks North America, which employs about 150 PSU graduates. The University and Daimler have had a long, mutually beneficial relationship that has helped shape the curriculum of the PSU business and engineering schools and has produced internships and high-paying jobs for grads. Daimler even bought a company started by PSU students: GlobeSherpa, a mobile app that lets users buy TriMet tickets. PSU and Daimler formalized the relationship four years ago by forming a strategic partnership that could expand Daimler’s presence in other parts of the University.

After applying numerous times, Meman landed an internship in Daimler’s powertrain product strategy department, where he worked alongside other engineers, performed market research, and pitched project ideas to the rest of the company. In February, he got a different job at Daimler in which he and his team members test the limits of truck systems and components.

“It’s really just running the trucks until they die,” he says. “We are the last checkbox of all the things that have to happen before production to be sure our trucks are working the way they should,” he says.

Meanwhile, he’s working with Daimler on his Senior Capstone project in which he’s helping develop safety technology that helps truck drivers keep their rigs in their own lanes on treacherous stretches of road such as Portland’s Terwilliger Curves.

Meman says Daimler is his dream company, and he wants to continue to work there after he graduates this spring.

The work he’s been doing helps pay for college. In addition, he got a full-ride scholarship during his junior year, a John J. Roberts scholarship for $2,500, and another $5,000 scholarship from Gerber, the blade company in Tigard where his parents work.

In 2017, Meman won an Innovation Program Grant through the Maseeh College of Engineering and Computer Science. The grant is awarded to students who come up with functional, innovative ideas and pitch them to a judging committee. He called his project the “SafetyTrckr,” a technology to prevent human error in driving, including alerting drivers when they fall asleep at the wheel. He hopes that someday it might be used in the automotive industry.

FOR MEMAN, enrolling at PSU was an easy choice. It’s close to home, so it allows him to save money on living expenses. And his older brother, Shalaw—the first one in his family to go to college—graduated from PSU in 2015 with degrees in accounting and finance. He now works for Perkins & Co., Portland’s largest locally owned accounting firm. 

“My brother is really glad to be there, and PSU gave him those opportunities,” says Meman.

The two brothers founded the Kurdish Student Organization on campus, a nonprofit organization to help students of Kurdish ancestry connect with their culture and find professional opportunities. His own Kurdish parents are on his mind as he looks beyond college to a career or graduate school.

“They motivated me. I want to help them—put them in a big house and let them retire happy. That’s my brother’s goal too,” he says.

As he works toward that goal, Meman continues to be an advocate for the University to draw more students to the place where he’s found success. He points to the fact that U.S. News & World Report named PSU one of the most innovative universities in the country.

“I believe in PSU because of the kinds of graduates it produces,” he says. “This is a gateway that offers a foundation for success. Being at PSU, I’ve never been told ‘no.’ If you have an idea, go for it!”

John Kirkland is a staff member in the PSU Office of University Communications.

To provide scholarship support for Shepol Meman and students like him, visit letknowledgeserve.org.

Caption: Hard work and a love of cars has earned student Shepol Meman academic scholarships as well an internship and job opportunity at Daimler Trucks North America.