By Billi London-Gray, University Marketing
Engineering technology grad finds opportunity at every turn, from Moscow to Jerusalem to San Marcos
San Marcos feels like home to Dmitri Kabakov. But then, so does Russia. And so does Israel. He just knows how to find his niche in any place.
“Friends and family are what’s important,” he says. “I measure my life by the number of people in it, by how many people I know personally. I don’t care how many people know about me.”
Many in the Texas State community have come to know the easygoing engineer because of his achievements across disciplines from track and field to nanotechnology. Beginning in his undergraduate days, he’s been doing research and coauthoring papers with faculty in his field. Before completing his master’s degree, Kabakov landed a job as a field engineer working on semiconductor equipment.
With his joie de vivre and his insatiable curiosity, it’s easy to understand why Kabakov has been so successful.
Kabakov, known as Dima to his friends, is up for just about any adventure. When he left home for Texas State in August 2005, he had never laid eyes on the school — or the United States.
Kabakov grew up in Moscow, Russia. He was one of only 20 students to receive a second-place ranking at the Russian High School Math Olympics. Shortly thereafter, his family immigrated to Israel. The Israeli Ministry of Education recognized him as Outstanding High School Graduate of the Year. He also made the Israeli national track team.
After high school, Kabakov served a year in the Israeli Defense Forces before being discharged to attend college. Though he was accepted into the Technion, Israel’s prestigious technology institute, Kabakov searched abroad for other educational opportunities.
“Why Texas State? Honestly? The website and the name,” Kabakov says. “I wanted a warm place, nice people.”
And the scholarships didn’t hurt. Determined to find a way to attend the university, Kabakov wrote “like a thousand e-mails” to staff at the school and eventually was awarded a full track scholarship. With the scholarship settled, he got on a plane, left home and came to San Marcos sight unseen.
The Track Star
“I wanted to put as much as possible into those five years of NCAA eligibility,” Kabakov says. He calculated how many credit hours he would need to take and focused on finishing both a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree within his five-year window of opportunity.
“I took as many hours as I could manage, so I was taking 19 hours during my junior and senior years,” Kabakov says. What was he thinking? “If the opportunity is available, you should take it. I just slept four or five hours per day.”
In addition to the heavy course load, Kabakov also had on-campus job commitments and leadership roles in two student organizations: the Society of Manufacturing Engineers and Hillel, a Jewish student organization. And, of course, he practiced with the track team three or four hours a day. In fact, during his sophomore year, he set the Israeli national record in heptathlon, a seven-event competition.
“There are great coaches here, like Galina Bukharina and Adam Hudson,” Kabakov says of the head track coach and an assistant. “Being a part of the Texas State track and field team and competing for the university was one of my most valuable experiences here.”
Bukharina, who won a bronze medal with the Soviet Union in the 400-meter relay at the 1968 Olympics and has coached several successful Olympians in her career, counts Kabakov among her blessings as well.
“Dima is the type of person who, if you ask him, will do anything for you, happily,” says Bukharina. “I recruited him as a pole vaulter — he did it perfectly — then asked him to do decathlon. He, of course, said yes.”
Decathlon is a contest of endurance consisting of 10 events, including sprints, jumps, throws and distance runs, spread over two days of competition.
“Dima was great. He practiced 10 times more than he had to,” Bukharina says. “That’s how he is. If he’s going to do something, he does it with all his heart.”
Kabakov also poured his efforts into academics. His hard work attracted the attention of Dr. Jitendra Tate, an assistant professor of manufacturing engineering who oversees the Ingram School of Engineering’s Composites and Plastics Lab.
“Dr. Tate saw I was OK in his class, mechanics of materials. He asked me if I wanted to work for him. He paid more than the on-campus job I already had,” he says, “so I worked for him.”
As an undergraduate research assistant in the CPL, Kabakov developed the website, procedures manual and safety training for students using the new lab. He also worked on research with faculty and entered national contests, including the University Research Symposium and the Ultra Light Bridge Contest, both held annually by the Society for the Advancement of Process and Manufacturing Engineering. Once he started graduate school, he also instructed undergraduate labs.
“Dmitri is an exceptional student,” Tate says. “In his three years working for me, he published three conference articles and two journal articles with me. He presented research at three conferences, a remarkable performance. He was also instrumental in maintaining, improving and running the day-to-day activities of the lab.”
Kabakov’s published articles featured research into various applications of nanocomposites and nanomodified composite materials. He’s studied nanocomposites for use as fire retardant materials, as vehicle components or as aircraft interiors. His research earned him awards and scholarships from the university and professional engineering organizations.
“No matter what he is doing, easy or complicated, he will do it with passion and dedication. He will always try to do things better than before, and he’s always ready to work on new challenges,” says Dr. Tate.
Dr. Andy Batey, the graduate program coordinator for the Department of Engineering Technology, says Kabakov’s accomplishments are all the more remarkable given the fact that his graduate work was in a different department than his undergraduate degree. He says it’s a unique situation for a university to support that kind of continuity for students.
“Texas State is very fortunate that faculty from engineering and engineering technology not only work closely together, but that they regard this as the normal, healthy and natural thing to do,” Batey says. “Many universities do not enjoy that advantage.”
The Dream Job
Through James Mulhall, another student in the engineering technology graduate program, Kabakov acquired a “dream job” before he completed his master’s thesis.
“I sought out Dima for a position working with my organization,” Mulhall says. ‘”He is a very intelligent, hard-working and honest individual. I was impressed with him from our first class meeting and gained respect for him the more I knew him.”
As a field support engineer for NSTAR Global Services, Kabakov now travels the country installing and tuning semiconductor manufacturing equipment for Tokyo Electron America.
“I would like to stay with this company for many years,” Kabakov says. “It’s a dream job for a guy like me. I don’t want to settle in one place. This job is 100 percent travel, and I really love traveling.”
While Kabakov keeps San Marcos as his home base, he gets to travel extensively even when he’s off the job. He uses the hotel and rental car points he accrues on business trips for accommodations when he’s off, wherever he’s off.
“I am very glad that I went to Texas State,” Kabakov say. “What was cool about this place is that I was able to do so many things. I got to do everything I wanted to do. And what I’ve done, anyone can do it.
"I believe that Texas State and San Marcos are the only school and location which allowed me to do so many things. This university rewards hard work and initiative. I do not believe that I am a special or did something outstanding; I was just enjoying my college life."