The cultural adjustment Hasan Pirkul made when he moved from Ankara, Turkey, to Pasadena, California, in the 1970s was seamless. “I was already listening to The Beatles and The Rolling Stones in Turkey,” he says. Pirkul was one of 58 Turkish high school students selected for a year-long program abroad. He returned home to attend college, then decided to pursue post-graduate degrees at the University of Rochester. He worked as a professor at The Ohio State University for 15 years before taking the helm of UTD’s business school in 1996, where he has helped grow it to more than 10,000 students while accounting for about 15 percent of M.S. degrees in information systems granted by business schools.
Here, he talks about the pressures of being a first-generation American: “Immigrants are not average people; average people don’t leave their homes, their comfort zones, and their families to live in a different environment. Immigrants are always under extra pressure to succeed. They don’t have something to fall back on. I felt that I had to succeed not only for myself but also for my country. There were so few Turks those days [in the U.S.] that everybody was looking at me, and if I did something dumb, they would say, ‘Look at the dumb Turk.’ They wouldn’t say, ‘Look at the dumb guy.’ A lot of immigrants face that level of pressure. If you have thin skin, you will have issues as an immigrant, but America has been very good to me.”