A place to call home

Zay Ya Min Yin in a hallway near Lockwood Library on UB North Campus.

Zay Ya Min Yin grew up in Papua New Guinea, moved to Myanmar as a teenager and began his college career in Singapore. So when he decided to pursue a college degree in the U.S., he wanted to find a place he could call home.

He was enrolled in a pre-college diploma program at the Singapore Institute of Management (SIM) when he connected with faculty in the UB School of Management, which has offered a collaborative undergraduate degree in business administration at SIM since 2004. Those discussions led Min Yin to look into making the move to Buffalo. 

“An American education has always been my dream, but tuition is expensive and nobody from my family went to college in the States, so I thought maybe it wasn’t possible for me,” says Min Yin. “But I did a lot of research and earned a scholarship, and eventually I made it here. I looked at all the clubs and organizations that UB offers, and the huge international population and I knew there was going to be a place for me.”

His journey to the U.S. wasn’t easy—about a 40-hour trip from Myanmar to Buffalo due, in part, to a delay at the immigration line that made him miss his connecting flight at JFK airport. But once he got to Buffalo, he moved into his dorm in Goodyear Hall and hit the ground running, attending orientation, starting classes and joining in extracurricular activities he’s passionate about.

Min Yin was enrolled in the school’s new Bachelor of Science in information technology and management program, an innovative curriculum that is one of few nationally—and the only such undergraduate program in the State University of New York (SUNY) system—that focuses on both technical and business skills. 

Now in his second year, he’s gaining practical programming experience while developing critical soft skills through the curriculum’s strong management component and learning to leverage technology to deliver results.

One of the first activities he got involved with was the Management Information Systems Association (MISA), where he began as vice president of marketing of the student organization and quickly rose to club president.

In his time as MISA president, he spearheaded the Technology Fellowship Program as a way to connect students with companies to work together on real-world projects amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“After COVID hit, students had a hard time getting internships and part-time jobs, so I wanted to help remedy the situation,” says Min Yin. “I reached out to companies and pitched my idea, and we matched 40 students with 10 companies over the past two semesters.”

With the skills he was building at UB—and help from the School of Management’s Career Resource Center (CRC)—Min Yin landed an internship for himself at Strayos, a Buffalo-based startup that serves mining and construction companies with underground mapping. 

“I was really desperate to get an internship, and the CRC staff helped me with all the things I needed to know about the job search in the U.S., like how to email and talk to a recruiter, and how to approach someone from a cultural standpoint,” says Min Yin. “I was so happy when I got the internship with Strayos and I couldn’t have done it without the CRC.”

While most students would have stopped there, Min Yin went on to not one but two more internships. His second was with Tellus, a real estate startup based in Silicon Valley, and the third with Constellation Brands, a Fortune 500 company that produces and markets beer, wine and spirits. 

“I want to work at a global tech corporation, especially on the West Coast, so I wanted to explore more into corporate America and bigger companies,” he says of his time at Constellation Brands.

Despite three internships, a part-time job and averaging 18 credits a semester to graduate in three years, Min Yin remarkably has maintained a 4.0 GPA. 

His secret? Creating side projects using the knowledge he gains in the classroom. 

In one such project, Min Yin was inspired by a statistics class to put his data analytics skills to use. So, with the help of UB’s Blackstone Launchpad & Techstars, he connected with rental startup Whose Your Landlord. There, he analyzed the real estate landscape in Western New York to determine the company’s potential to succeed in the region and presented his findings to their leadership team. 

“It’s a really great way to add value to your education and get higher grades,” he says. “You obviously can’t do it for every class you’re taking, but for the subjects you’re really interested in, you can use it as a way to stay engaged.”

Oh, and he also wrote a book. 

In 2020, Min Yin was accepted into the Portfolio Expansion Project Fellowship through Georgetown University, a 20-week program for college students or recent grads that provides accountability and community to create a book, podcast, video course or other creative project. 

His book—about 45,000 words in total—focuses on the intersection of emerging technologies and humanitarian issues. Over winter break, he worked closely with David Murray, clinical professor of management science and systems in the UB School of Management, for feedback and to discuss ideas while putting the book together. The book, Codes and Kingdoms, will be released in August, with preorders beginning in April. 

After he graduates next year, Min Yin hopes to make the U.S. his permanent home and pursue his dream of working for a big tech firm on the West Coast. He also looks forward to exploring more of the country.

“I really like going for road trips, and I haven’t been able to do that since I got here because I’ve been really busy and then COVID hit, which made it pretty impossible,” he says. “I love going with friends to places I’ve never been before. That’s my favorite way to blow off some steam.”