College of Engineering News • Iowa State University

Discipline for Success

Edwin Kurgan runs in the 2019 Nuttycombe Wisconsin XC Invitational.

“Being an athlete you have to be disciplined. You can’t be successful without being disciplined.”

Edwin Kurgan runs in the 2019 Nuttycombe Wisconsin XC Invitational.
Edwin Kurgan runs in the 2019 Nuttycombe Wisconsin XC Invitational. Photo courtesy of Mike Scott/ISU Athletics

As a NCAA champion in cross-country, Edwin Kurgat knows about the level of discipline required to reach goals. He also applies this same level of discipline to his study habits as an industrial engineering student.

Growing up in Eldoret, Kenya, Kurgat played field hockey and also enjoyed fiddling with electronics and other machines.

“I knew that one day I wanted to be an engineer,” said Kurgat. “I wanted to see how things are built and how they work.”


To read the full story on Edwin, click here.


Intro: Welcome to Factor Analysis, an in-depth conversation of engineering knowledge from the classroom to the field, and topical issues surrounding work and life from an engineer’s viewpoint.

Nick Fetty: Today we’re here with Edwin Kurgat. He’s a senior in industrial engineering here at Iowa State and also a multisport athlete in both cross country and track and field. So thanks, Edwin, for joining us today.

Edwin Kurgat: Yes I’m very happy to get this opportunity. I love to be in such as great place and also to talk to people and give my views and my likes, too.

NF: Yeah you’ll tell us more about your life story here. I have some kinda fun questions here just to get to know you. And I know you’re very modest and probably won’t want to talk too much about your NCAA championship but we will address that here a little bit later. So why don’t we just start off by telling me where you’re from and where you grew up.

EK: I come from Africa, that is Kenya. I come from a small town called Eldoret. It’s well known for great athletes and is also a very good place to train. So that’s where I was born and I went to high school in the same place. So I grew up and learned in almost the same town. ~1:23 – THIS MAY NEED AN EDIT

NF: Oh that’s cool.

EK: I went to school in Tennessee first before transferring to Iowa State.

NF: Cool. As I mentioned at the top of the show here, you’re an industrial engineering student.

EK: Yup.

NF: What was it about industrial engineering that you selected that as your major when you got here.

EK: First, when I was very young, when I was in preschool I used to just like engineering and all. I used to see these old electronics and all of the machines and I was like ‘one day I want to be an engineer. I want to see how things are built and how they work.’ When I got done with high school I came to the U.S. and I got a chance to join the school of engineering. I started in Tennessee. I was there for three semesters before transferring to Iowa State. When I came to Iowa State, I didn’t know what specific engineering to do but I talked to some people and they told me about industrial engineering, and all of the fields within that. They talked about manufacturing and that’s what I really wanted before, so I decided to specialize in manufacturing so I could know how things are made and stuff like that. That made me get really interested in it.

NF: That’s neat that you grew up always having that interest in engineering. I think that’s the case with a lot of engineers. They know that from a very early stage that’s what they want to do in life. So how long have you been running then? I don’t know if when you were growing up in Kenya did you have organized cross country like you do here? Or when did you get into running?

EK: Before high school I didn’t play any sports but when I got to high school I started playing field hockey, which is one of the sports in Kenya. I used to play field hockey. I used to play the center position. Which is number six. I used to also do a lot of aerobic stuff, but I didn’t run [like I do now with cross country]. I just played field hockey and I played for all four of the years I was in high school. When I graduated my sister told me about the opportunity of getting a scholarship in the U.S. That really made me interested and I really wanted to be part of it so I started training and talking to the coaches. That made me start running. I started my training in March of 2016. I started progressing and luckily I got a scholarship in August of 2016.

NF: Very good. Congratulations for that. And then so I know a big part of industrial engineering is the idea of improving systems and finding efficiencies in everything. Do you ever notice parallels between finding these efficiencies in industrial engineering and perhaps trying to improve things in your training style in track and cross country.

EK: Taking part in athletics and doing engineering is something that sometimes people think it’s so difficult but it’s easier if you can accept yourself, and accept to do the work. Being in both running and studying it gives you a sense that you need to use your time very well. You need to manage your time. You need to discipline yourself. You need to be active in being on top of everything. Participating in both activities has helped me to discipline myself and to use my time very wisely.

NF: Very good. I certainly imagine that time management is part of all of that. So why don’t you tell me a little bit about, how there been one course in particular or maybe a couple of courses within the IE curriculum that have really been impactful for you so far. Perhaps, even just classes you’ve really enjoyed taking, do you have a couple of those courses you’ve taken yet?

EK: One of the classes I’m taking this semester is one that I’ve really enjoyed being in it. That’s I E 248 [Engineering System Design, Manufacturing Processes and Specifications]. Just going to that class and learning about manufacturing. Going into the lab and interacting with the tools. The CNC machines. It’s something that I had never experienced. I had not seen a machine that can really do some good work like that. It just made me like it more and made me want to be in it each and every second. I think I E 248 is one my favorite industrial engineering classes right now.

NF: Yeah. So you like those hands-on classes where you’re actually using the machines. You learn this theory in the classroom but now you’re applying it by using those machines.

EK: Yeah. I’ve just liked it so much. You go through SolidWorks, you make something and then you go to the lab and you can use the machines to make what you prepared in SolidWorks. That just makes me want to learn more about it and get more interested in industrial engineering [in general].

NF: Very cool. Have there been any faculty members within the IE department who have been an especially strong mentor on you or just any faculty members in particular who stand out to you?

EK: I talk to the advisors a ton and get some help from them. Coming to the classes and talking to the teaching professors and getting their advice and them telling us what to do and what not to do. That has been really impactful.

NF: Right. And so isn’t Heather Robinson your academic advisor?

EK: Yup.

NF: Yeah she always shares with me your clippings ‘Hey look Edwin did something cool’ she’ll email me. We definitely keep an ear to the ground with the great stuff you’re doing in cross country. So maybe we can transition into more of the cross country stuff. You had a really good point earlier about balancing your time between IE and cross country, it’s really taught you a lot about time management and everything. Has your participation with athletics along with the IE curriculum, do you think you’ve developed professionally in some others ways. Some of the examples I have listed here is maybe working in a team setting or disciplining yourself to know when to eat well when to go to sleep and get proper sleep and all of that.

EK: Being a sportsman, you really need to be disciplined. You cannot be successful without being disciplined so one of the things that’s really helped me has been being disciplined. Also interaction with people. I’ve been interacting with a lot of people. Many people from different backgrounds. You need to work with them so you can improve each other. Also connecting with many people and interacting with them and sometimes you spend time with them, which has helped me to develop great friendships. Also it has helped me with leadership. I’ve been working with them and they just help me grow as a person and just improve myself. Being part of both of them has just been so impactful in my life.

NF: Right those are good examples. I didn’t think of the leadership or just the idea of learning how to work in a team setting with people with different backgrounds and skillsets. Again I know you’re modest and I don’t want to make you feel uncomfortable here but what was your reaction when you realized you had won the individual title for the NCAA championship. I mean, that’s a huge deal. You’re number one in the whole country amongst collegiate, amateur athletes. How did that feel to you to win that?

EK: I was just about to cross the line it didn’t seem possible. It didn’t seem realistic and I was just like ‘is that really me?’ That feeling just made me feel so happy. I was like ‘I did it!’ The day before I was talking to my coaches and they were just like ‘let’s not focus so much on winning, let’s focus on doing the right thing and being out there and doing your best.’ So we weren’t really putting much effort in trying to win, we were just trying to do the best we can do. After crossing and winning that made me so happy. I was also cheering on my teammates and knowing we also needed to do well as a team. We’re glad we got a podium place. We got fourth place as a team so that was one of our best performances.

NF: That’s awesome. That has to be very rewarding to see all of your hard work pay off. Tell me a little bit about what are you doing now as you prepare to transition to the track and field season and what events do you run for track?

EK: If you’re a cross country runner you’re a lost distance runner so I do long distance. I’m more so the 5K event so that’s what I do most of the time. Being part of the cross country team and track and field is almost the same thing. Right now we just got done with cross country and we’re into track and field. We start with the indoor season. This past weekend I had a race in Boston. It went really well. I got a qualification time for nationals so that was really exciting. Right now I’m done, I’m going to take a two week break and after finals that’s when I start to get back into training and getting ready for track and field.

NF: I actually just read a news article talking about how you had just competed in the Boston event. Now is that separate from NCAA competition? What is that?

EK: That’s not a separate competition. After cross country in indoor they only pick the top 16 individuals so it depends who gets the best time.

NF: Wow. So you’ve just been incredibly busy between end of the semester stuff with school and still competing up until the end.

EK: Yeah.

NF: That’s great. Do you know yet when you plan to complete your studies in IE and do you have plans for what you might like to do when you graduate for a job?

EK: I’ll be getting done in spring of 2021. After that it depends, a lot of things change. Being an athlete and also being an engineering student, at that time I’ve have to consider which one will come first. Right now I’m still working on both of them, making sure I’m doing good in each one.

NF: Yeah I get that. I know that we’ve had within the IE department, in the past we’ve had some overlap with students who have been either student-athletes or just really interested in sports stuff, and there are actually jobs out there, sports-related jobs that might need IEs. Whether that’s designing and modifying and making equipment as efficient as possible or whatever it might be, so perhaps you could find a way to maybe blend those two interests someday.

EK: Yeah for sure. That’s really cool. I like sports being able to work for a sporting company or something like that, would be really cool for me.

NF: Obviously you’re busy with school and running. Those probably occupy a lot of your time but are some of your hobbies and interests outside of those things? What are some of your interests?

EK: First of all, I like traveling. Traveling has been one of my key things. When I was in Kenya I’d go out there to visit places. So coming to the U.S. was one of my biggest traveling experiences. I couldn’t wait for that day, for that time. So that is one of my best right now. When I’m at home I came to the U.S., I didn’t know the American sports, American football. I didn’t know much about basketball and the NBA [National Basketball Association]. When I came to the U.S. I started to watch and I just fell in love with them. Right now I watch most of the NBA games, most of the college basketball games.

NF: Awesome. Have you made to a Cyclone football game at Jack Trice or a basketball game at Hilton yet?

EK: Yeah I’ve been watching most of the games. I’ve gone to some of the games for both basketball and football. I think this year I made it to three games. That was really cool.

NF: Very cool. And then backtracking just a bit, you mentioned you like to travel a lot. Do you have a favorite country or city you’ve visited so far? Or maybe a place that you would really like to visit someday?

EK: I think so far going to Los Angeles for one of our team trips. I really enjoyed that trip, it was fun. We had very many days out there. I think that was one of my coolest traveling experiences. Also, Boston was really fun too. Yeah so it’s just been nice.

NF: Yeah. East Coast. West Coast. You’ve been all over. Well, Edwin, I really appreciate you joining us and talking to us for today. So best of luck as you wrap up your semester and certainly best of luck with the track season, the indoor and outdoor season coming up here. Thank you, Ewin.

EK: Alright. Thank you very much.

NF: That does it for this edition of Factor Analysis. Thanks for listening. Be sure to hit subscribe wherever you listen to podcasts. I’m Nick Fetty and we’ll see you again soon on Factor Analysis.

Outro: Factor Analysis is produced by Iowa State University’s College of Engineering. For a list of way to keep up with the college, including more podcasts, social media and apps, go to engineering-dot-iastate-dot-edu. Music by Lee Rosevere and used under Creative Commons License.