By now Enkh-Uchral “Eddie” Enkhbayar is used to people wondering if he grew up in a ger (the Mongolian version of a yurt) and rode to school on horseback. No, he patiently explains, when asked about his
homeland. Eddie grew up in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia’s capital. A modern metropolis of 1.5 million inhabitants, it is urban
to a fault—plagued by smog and snarled with vehicles. “It’s so crowded, I would say
the traffic is worse than LA,” Eddie says.
In fact, that’s what brought him to SMC in the first place. Eddie came here in 2019 to study engineering, with the goal of helping to fix Ulaanbataar’s serious infrastructure problems, which in turn have triggered a national health crisis. Pollution-related respiratory disease is rampant. Eddie’s own grandmother has been hospitalized twice with asthma.
It seems counterintuitive, given that Mongolia is the world’s most sparsely populated country. Nearly four times the size of California, it has just 3.3 million inhabitants. Ulaanbaatar, however, is home to roughly half that population—and growing fast as unemployment drives Mongolia’s once-nomadic people to the capital city. Many of the new arrivals live in gers without electricity.
“Automobiles and industry cause some of Ulaanbaatar’s air pollution,” Eddie says, “but the biggest factor is people burning raw coal for heating. We don’t have good infrastructure, and we don't have enough resources to power all the homes.”
Eddie’s long-term goal is to drive sustainable energy innovation in his homeland. His proposed solution: “I think we could utilize resources like wind and solar. Mongolia is really windy in the winter and really sunny and hot in the summer.”
Unfortunately, he laments, “there aren’t enough engineers to show the way.” Eddie is personally addressing that problem. In fall 2021, he transferred to UCLA from SMC. He’s currently a junior majoring in electrical engineering, holding down a 3.97 GPA.
Eddie has known he wanted to be an engineer since his freshman year at Mongolia’s
best STEM high school.
You wouldn’t know it to see his smiling face, but he had to overcome devastating loss and grief to get this far. When Eddie was 10, a family trip to Bulgan, a town 200 miles east of Ulaanbaatar, ended in tragedy. An automobile accident took both his parents’ lives. Eddie and his two sisters spent months in the hospital recovering from their injuries. Luckily they had a large extended family. The orphaned children went to live with their grandparents: one set on weekdays, the other set on weekends. Many aunts, uncles, and cousins welcomed them in loving and supportive homes.
In fact, Eddie currently lives with one of his aunts, not far from Koreatown. A financial analyst at Cedars-Sinai, Enkhtsetseg Myagmar helped Eddie polish his English and softened the homesickness international students usually experience upon arriving in Los Angeles. His adjustment to campus life was remarkably smooth. Eddie signed up with the STEM program and joined two honors societies: Alpha Gamma Sigma and Phi Theta Kappa. When the COVID crisis disrupted on-ground learning, he volunteered with the International Education Center, which led to a paid position as a peer mentor. His entire time at SMC, Eddie also worked as a Supplementary Instruction (SI) leader in calculus and chemistry.
“Eddie is awesome,” says Muriel Walker Waugh, the SMC professor who recruited him as her SI leader for Introduction to Chemistry. “He is smart, kind, gentle, and yet strong and organized. I remember students telling me after class: ‘I’m going to see Eddie. He will help me work it out.’ That’s what I wanted to hear!”
Eddie is grateful to Muriel because SI gave him the push he needed to overcome his fear of public speaking. From shaking voice and trembling hands, he progressed to the poised calm that now gives him the confidence to actively participate in class discussions and enjoy presenting his projects.
Even so, adapting to UCLA wasn’t easy: The 10-week quarter system threw Eddie for a loop. “It flew by so fast,” he says. “Once we got close to mid-terms, I slept only five or six hours a night. I had no free time.”
Now in his third quarter, Eddie still works hard: he’s carrying 21 units, mostly upper-division courses like electromagnetics, physics, and probability and statistics, plus a GE in visual culture.
Yet he manages to carve out some free time and make new friends. Between classes, Eddie likes to shoot hoops at a nearby South Campus court. To unwind, he listens to pop music and enjoys going to concerts (his favorite artist is The Weeknd). Since turning 21 last December, he can get into nightclubs to hear new bands. He also enjoys experimenting with world cuisines: Indian, Mexican and Cuban restaurants are among his favorites.
The multicultural vibe is what Eddie likes most about Los Angeles—and what he expected least.
“When I first arrived, the diversity really shocked me,” he says. “In Mongolia, there are almost no foreigners. You only ever see Mongolians. In the SMC international student community, everyone comes from different countries.”
Though he hasn’t been back home in three years, Eddie stays connected with his sisters, grandparents, and relatives via video chat. A few family members have visited him in Los Angeles.
“Interestingly, I know no one from Mongolia here, really, except my family,” he says. In addition to his aunt, he has three cousins living in California, and a fourth in New York. They keep Eddie connected with his roots and strengthen his resolve to dedicate his life to modernizing Mongolia’s power infrastructure.
“I want to provide each and every family, regardless of whether they live in a house or a yurt, with a solar energy system, while reducing air pollution so everyone is breathing cleaner air,” Eddie wrote in a statement of purpose essay for his UCLA transfer application.
With Eddie on track to graduate from UCLA in 2023, Ulaanbaatar stands to gain a much-needed engineer with world-class training in sustainable energy systems. He plans to stay in California a bit longer—perhaps go on for a master’s degree and get some hands-on experience working in the green sector.
His SMC mentor is watching with high expectations.
“I have no doubt,” Muriel says, “that Eddie will be able to make his homeland better. He will strategically utilize his knowledge to make the world a better place.”
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