SWE Scholar — Maryam Abdul-Wahid
Meet this month's SWE Scholar — Maryam Abdul-Wahid. Maryam is a graduate student attending the University of Arizona studying electrical engineering. We talked with Maryam about Black History Month, what it means to her and how she won a SWE scholarship.
HQ: Do you have any African American roles models or women influencers? Do you think they have helped pave the way for you in your engineering career?
MAW: There are a number of African American role models – from historical figures to present day people – who have helped shape me into the young woman that I am today. My mother is one who has been there for me from the very beginning, encouraging me to keep an open mind and try different activities while also doing my best to excel. She continues to inspire me today, even in ways that I may not realize.
Recently, I’ve discovered the history behind Janet Harmon Bragg, the first African American woman to receive a commercial pilot’s license in the U.S. As someone who plans to work in the aerospace industry, I find her story truly inspirational. In addition to flying planes, Janet opened and oversaw several nursing homes and helped many international students earn a college education. Her autobiography has reminded me that once I start my career, I should look for ways to expand my career and find ways combine it with other areas that I’m passionate about.
HQ: What does Black History Month mean to you?
MAW: Every year, Black History Month seems to have a bit of a different meaning for me. For me, this year, Black History Month has turned out to be a time of inspiration and evaluation. It started when my mother and I went to go see the film “Hidden Figures” in theaters back in January. Learning about the enormous impact African American women had on the success of NASA was eye-opening and the perfect way to start my last semester. I’ve also had the desire to read biographies/autobiographies this year. I began with Maya Angelou’s “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings”, and then I read Janet Harmon Bragg’s “Soaring Above Setbacks”. Both women faced numerous obstacles at different stages in their life, yet, they didn’t let that deter them from doing what they loved and sharing what they loved. All of these stories have encouraged me to take a step back and ensure that I continue to pursue what I love even when I face my own challenges.
HQ: What school do you currently attend, and what engineering discipline do you study?
MAW: I am a graduate student at the University of Arizona studying electrical engineering with a focus on control systems and signal processing.
HQ: Why did you choose this field of engineering to study?
MAW: In high school, I took three years of pre-engineering courses which involved robotic and programming competitions. Ever since then, I’ve wanted to understand how electronics and technology work at the smallest of levels.
HQ: What influenced you to choose engineering as your major? Were there any inspiring moments in life that lead to this?
MAW: The first time I probably considered engineering as a career (or as what I want to be when I grow up) was back in seventh grade when a couple of classmates and I took part in the annual Phoenix Future City Competition. Using a computer simulation program, we had to develop and successfully run an entire city full of neighborhoods, businesses, transportation, farming and more for a certain time period. The theme for that year was to also conceptually incorporate nanotechnology. We also built a physical model of the city using recycled materials and items specific to the competition. The whole experience was fun and full of teamwork and problem solving strategies. Then in addition to exploring electrical engineering in my high school engineering classes, we explored civil engineering by constructing cardboard chairs that could support over 200 pounds and mechanical engineering by using milling machines and other machinery.
HQ: How long have you been a SWE member?
MAW: I have been a SWE member since the start of my freshman year at the University of Arizona, which was back in August 2012.
HQ: How has being a SWE member impacted you, professionally and personally?
MAW: I first became aware of SWE when I attended a two-day high school event, called Suite with SWE, hosted by the University of Arizona SWE section on campus. There I met other high school students interested in study
ing engineering as well as college students from each engineering program offered at the university (aerospace, civil, mechanical, chemical, industrial, mining, etc.) I realized the importance of SWE and immediately joined the organization at the start of my freshman year. Since then, I have established lifelong friendships and participated in various outreach activities to encourage kids to study engineering. I have also attended every national convention for the past five years. I always look forward to networking with people and gaining insight into their experiences and the atmospheres of various companies. Other times, I would sit in on professional development workshops or talks about the latest technological advancements. Being a SWE member has impacted my personal and professional life in more ways than I can describe.
HQ: What SWE scholarship were you awarded, and when?
MAW: I was awarded the Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) scholarship over the summer of 2016 before the start of my graduate studies program.
HQ: What were your goals in pursuing this scholarship, and what goals have you set for your future?
MAW: While I thankfully received full-time tuition from the university for four years as an undergraduate student, I knew that I would need to apply for scholarship funds to continue my accelerated master’s program. I mainly needed help covering graduate school tuition. Once that would be taken care of, then I sought out short-time research opportunities in an area of electrical engineering that I had not done before.
HQ: How did you specifically use the scholarship?
MAW: Fortunately, the scholarship covered the rest of the tuition for my graduate program.
HQ: Did the scholarship impact you beyond the financial?
MAW: I did not believe that I would receive a scholarship from SWE, so finding out that I was awarded one was a blessing and very ensuring. The scholarship helped me to realize that I want to make the most out of my first but last year as a full-time graduate student. I challenged myself to take classes slightly outside of my area of study and reach out to professors for other possible research opportunities.
HQ: What if you hadn’t received the SWE scholarship?
MAW: If I hadn’t received the SWE scholarship, then I would have considered becoming a teacher’s assistant for a course that I have taken before in order to help cover the cost of tuition. That might have possible affected my ability to do research on the side as well.
HQ: What is one piece of advice you’d give to a current applicant?
MAW: When it comes to writing the short essay, make sure that you convey a sense of passion. Try not to just state the facts.
HQ: What is your all-time favorite SWE moment?
MAW: I have really enjoyed connecting with high school students during outreach events. When Suite with SWE would come around, I had high school girls stay in the dorm room with me overnight. They would ask all sorts of questions from life as an engineering student to life in Tucson, Arizona. I was glad to answer all of them and happy to help them in any way afterwards. I still stay in contact with some of them. One time during Suite with SWE, the volunteers had to give themselves superhero names. I was known as Ninjaneer to a group of high school students whom I escorted throughout the event. To this day, I occasionally run into those students on campus who still remember me as Ninjaneer.
But on another note, I really enjoy getting some of the amazing free swag at the national convention career fairs each year.