Korn-eak ‘Pann’ Thamrongwang finds ‘life-changing experience’ as UMSL MBA student

by | May 16, 2018

The Thailand native is one of four members of his family to earn a master's degree from UMSL.
Korn-eak ‘Pann’ Thamrongwang, MBA alumnus

Korn-eak “Pann” Thamrongwang chose UMSL to continue a tradition started by his sister and brother-in-law more than a decade ago. Thamrongwang and his wife, Wichuda, are now also alumni of the College of Business Administration. (Photo by August Jennewein)

Before he had even earned a high school diploma, Korn-eak “Pann” Thamrongwang knew a master’s degree was in his future.

He didn’t know when he would begin, what he would study or where he would attend, but he was certain that an advanced degree would put him on the career path he desired.

It’s a goal inspired by his sister and brother-in-law, who graduated with MBAs from the University of Missouri–St. Louis in 2004 and went on to build successful careers in their home country of Thailand.

“I knew growing up that I had to have a master’s degree, especially when I was here seeing my sister cross the stage,” Thamrongwang said. “I turned to my parents then and told them I wanted to be like her.”

After that day, he charted out a plan: finish high school, earn a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering, enter the workforce and then wait for the right opportunity.

Thamrongwang gradually checked each of these boxes. Then, after six years working as an engineer in Cincinnati, he knew he wanted to transition into business and believed the timing was finally right.

One question still remained: Where should he go?

After some thought and a few campus tours, Thamrongwang determined in 2016 that the answer had been in front of him for the last 12 years.

“Back in Thailand, both my sister and brother-in-law have gone on to be quite successful,” Thamrongwang said. “I knew UMSL had a really good education, so UMSL was always in the back of my mind. Then when I had the opportunity to visit campus, I met with Francesca Ferrari, who is the director of graduate business programs. She was very welcoming and showed me around. After that, I knew this was the right place for me.”

That feeling has remained throughout his time in UMSL’s MBA program.

He admits that the initial move away from family and friends in eastern Ohio and western Indiana was difficult, as he and his wife knew no one else in this part of the Midwest. However, a friendly and helpful graduate business staff – particularly Ferrari – eased the transition.

“Francesca is the one who has pushed, inspired and supported me,” Thamrongwang said. “I am not only a student to her, but she’s given me advice in my personal life.”

His connection to Ferrari and the campus community deepened as he accepted an assistantship with the graduate business office. In the role, he advised prospective students, assisted current Tritons and completed administrative tasks for faculty and staff.

By having access to faculty through his role, he says he likely gained more from the position than anyone did from him.

“When I first started, I wanted to understand how business functions work, but I also spent the first year trying to figure out what I really wanted to specialize in,” Thamrongwang said. “Luckily I was working in the graduate business office, so I had the opportunity to connect with many of the department chairs in ways I never had as an undergraduate.”

During those early months, he contemplated finance, information systems and a few other industries before settling on supply chain and analytics after a conversation with Department Chair James Campbell.

The coursework in supply chain came naturally to Thamrongwang and provided the managerial training he was looking for as he transitioned out of an engineering career.

“Coming to UMSL has been a life-changing experience for me,” Thamrongwang said. “It’s not only the education I received but also the connections that I now have. The professors and faculty are great and were always there for me. To me, it’s a family environment.”

Thamrongwang has gone on to share these positive experiences with other international students. His wife, Wichuda Thamrongwang, also a native of Thailand, was his first recruit, and the pair graduated alongside each other with MBAs last weekend.

“Going through the program together had its ups and downs of course,” he said. “Some of the classes can be a bit challenging for her with the language, with the new country, the new culture, but I was there to support her with the experience that I have living here for the last 16 years. I think it’s been the best time and a good place for us to go through the program together.”

Thamrongwang’s recruitment efforts have not stopped there.

He’s been a welcoming face at student orientation, an active participant in international student activities and a knowledgeable ally in the graduate business office. These connections made him an obvious choice when UMSL’s Office of International Studies and Programs started looking for students to participate in a recent webinar for recruitment partners in Southeast Asia.

“A lot of our recruitment partners want to hear student stories to be able to retell those to other students who are interested in coming to UMSL to help them see themselves at the campus,” International Student Adviser Rebecca Kehe said. “Pann’s ability to articulate his experiences of coming to St. Louis, beginning his studies and working as a graduate assistant really helped paint that picture for these partners.“

Now that he’s completed his long-awaited master’s degree, Thamrongwang is taking an extended vacation with family members who’ve traveled both from Thailand and Indiana. When he returns, he’ll once again look to follow the path his sister and brother-in-law blazed more than a decade ago.

“I feel like with this education, I can go anywhere in the world and be successful,” he said. “Really it depends on the opportunities.”

Sara Bell

Sara Bell