Leonie BardenReaching for the stars took on a whole new meaning for Vaughn College alumna Leonie Barden ’07, a systems engineer for The Boeing Company at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Pursuing her passion

Growing up in New York City, Barden knew from an early age she had a passion for airplanes. This passion was met with challenges since she was surrounded by a family of scientists who worked in the medical field. Raised by her Jamaican single mother, Barden said she travelled often throughout her childhood and visited family in Jamaica.

She recalls a time when her mother asked her, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

Barden replied, “Mom, I want to be a stewardess.” Barden looks back on that moment fondly as she’s come a long way since then having forged ahead in the industry as a mechanical engineer. It should be noted, that this success wasn’t without sacrifice, dedication and a large helping of courage.

Finding Vaughn

After high school, Barden attended Adelphi University for a short time and then enrolled in a local community college. After strong test scores proved she had an aptitude for science and math, Barden said her guidance counselor encouraged her to pursue her passion for flight.

“I knew I wanted to do something technical,” Barden said. “While my friends were taking business courses, I knew my path was taking a different direction. My counselor was instrumental in guiding me to find my destiny.”

She transferred to Vaughn College, where she enrolled in the aeronautical engineering technology Associate in Applied Science (AAS) degree program. Upon earning her associate degree, Barden became focused on pursuing a bachelor’s degree.

At that time, Vaughn was seeking accreditation and thus transitioned to an ABET-accredited degree program. During that time, Barden worked full-time as a computer technician. She returned to Vaughn in 2004 on a part-time basis where she took night classes. The time and work paid off as Barden earned her bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering technology: aeronautical and computer-aided design.in 2007.

Living the dream

Upon graduation, Barden was committed to finding her dream job. She applied to The Boeing Company and in April 2008 received a job offer at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida as a systems engineer. “It was a big move for me, especially leaving my current job at the time, but I knew I had to take the chance,” Barden said. “I’ve always been fascinated by airplanes and this was my chance to live my dream.”

Reaching for the stars

For the past 10 years, Barden has been working as a systems engineer where she manufactures hardware for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) space exploration programs which include the International Space Station (ISS) and Commercial Crew Transportation System. “Every day is different and presents a new set of challenges,” she explained. “My job is to take projects from the cradle to the grave, supporting the full life cycle of a product – from design to manufacturing and system retirement.”

Barden’s most recent project has been to work on Boeing’s (Crew Space Transportation CST-100 Starliner) program, the latest spacecraft design to transport crew to the International Space Station and low-Earth orbit. “It’s humbling and overwhelming to be a part of something that impacts mankind on this level,” said Barden. “All eyes of the world are on space travel. The entire experience makes me feel special. It’s a magical moment to watch a rocket launch and to know I had a part in making it happen.”

Vaughn’s impact on her career

Reflecting on her time at Vaughn, Barden said the College gave her a foundation to use the knowledge she acquired for critical thinking.

“You may not apply all or any of the formulas and theorems that you study so hard to understand in your daily tasks,” Barden stated. “However, understanding the concepts is critical to understanding the full spectrum of your field. You may not use it daily but at some point, you’ll tap into your knowledge to get the job done.”

When asked what motivated her to where she is today, Barden replied, “Determination and perseverance. Never give up on your dream. I reached for the stars, never imagining my work would literally make it there.”

Vaughn’s fall Open House is scheduled for Saturday, November 10 and Saturday, November 17 between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. It’s a fun and informative day where interested students, along with their families, can meet with faculty and staff to ask questions and tour the campus.

Register today!

International student Abdullah Yasser Ali ’19 is pursuing his dreams in the United States as a senior at  Vaughn College as a mechatronic engineering major.

Coming to America

In 2015, Ali moved to the United States from Egypt to pursue his college career. After applying to several colleges and universities in the United States, Canada and Germany, Ali selected Vaughn as his college of choice.

“I was drawn to Vaughn for the college’s mechatronic engineering program,” Ali said. “The curriculum and small campus community was the perfect fit for me. After leaving my family behind in Egypt, it was comforting to find a home at Vaughn.”

Family ties

Growing up in Egypt, Ali said spending time with his father was a driving force to feed his passion for engineering. “My father is a mechanical engineer and a car enthusiast,” said Ali. “I recall using his tools and helping him work on cars. He always encouraged me to work with my hands and do my best. Looking back, I realize my passions are just like my dad’s.” Leaving home was not easy for Ali. At first, his mother was not pleased about the idea but as time went on her acceptance and approval made adjusting easier. “Having my mother’s approval meant the world to me,” Ali said. “It showed me a level of trust in my decision to further my education and that she realized I was mature enough to make the move.”

Finding a home at Vaughn

Ali embraced his move to New York and had no problem fitting in to the Vaughn campus community. In his freshmen year, he joined the soccer team and made friends right away. By his second year, he was appointed captain of the team, a role he still holds today.  Soon after, Ali was chosen by one of his professors to be a “student instructor” to tutor students in chemistry. “I was honored when my professor approached me with this position,” Ali said humbly. “I love helping my fellow students. It’s a great feeling knowing I can relate to them on a different level and contribute to their success.”

In 2017, Ali expanded his scope of activities on campus and joined the team in the admissions office. There, he began planning and organizing open house events among other responsibilities. “Open house is always a fun event and a great way to meet prospective students,” Ali said. “I’m proud to be a part of the admissions department,” Ali stated. “I remember what it was like when I came to Vaughn, so I can relate to prospective students and enjoy answering their questions.”

Over the summer, Ali joined the UAV club at Vaughn. “Being part of the UAV club, is an incredible experience” Ali said excitedly. “Drones are and will be a big part of our future including offering new career opportunities. Being a Vaughn student gives me a competitive and well-rounded edge to learn and get hands-on-experience relating to all aspects in my field- even drone technology.”

Looking to the future

Feeding his passion for cars, Ali said he hopes to apply his knowledge at from Vaughn and pursue a career in the automotive industry. “My plans are to remain in the United States,” Ali stated. “I believe there are better job opportunities here and more potential to find for a job in my field of study.  I’m excited to graduate next year but I will always keep a piece of Vaughn with me to remind me of what it took to get me where I am today.”

See Ali at the Vaughn Open House

This year marks Ali’s third open house. “Open house is one of the highlights of the year,” said Ali. “I enjoy meeting perspective students and offering my first-hand college experience. It’s a great feeling to know that I may have been instrumental in guiding someone to apply and become a Vaughn student.”

Vaughn’s fall Open House is scheduled for Saturday, November 10 and Saturday, November 17 between 10am and 2pm. It’s a fun and informative day where interested students along with their families can meet with faculty and staff to ask questions and tour the campus. Register today.






The world’s first hydrogen fuel cell-powered train rode the rails in Lower Saxony, Germany last month when European railway manufacturer Alstom launched two models of their new commercial trains, Coradia iLint. This latest innovation is a collaboration of cross-border teamwork between France and Germany to provide a climate-friendly alternative to diesel-fueled trains.

Fueled by the elements

The Coradia iLint uses fuel cells that turn hydrogen and oxygen into electricity releasing steam and water instead of large plumes of smoke and carbon dioxide like diesel trains. Fueled at a mobile hydrogen filling station, gaseous hydrogen stored in a 40-foot high steel container is pumped into the train. Alstom reports one tank of hydrogen will provide enough fuel for the train to travel approximately 621 miles. Plans for a stationary filling station is scheduled for operation in 2021 when Alstom plans to deliver an additional 14 Coradia iLint trains with a price tag of just over $93 million.

Going to distance

The two electric trains can travel up to 87 miles per hour and will operate on a 62-mile line carrying passengers between the cities of Cuxhaven, Bremerhaven, Bremervorde and Buxtehude. Previously, this line was served by diesel trains operated by Eisenbahnen und Verkehrsbetriebe Elbe-Weser (EVB.) The Coradia iLint trains replace diesel engines eliminating the need to electrify the entire track with a charged third rail or overhead powerlines, as would be needed for more traditional electric trains to function.

Clean travel

In an ongoing effort to reduce air pollution, Coradia iLint just may be a trailblazer in revolutionizing the rail system with its zero-emissions and low-noise output—making hydrogen a rock star element as an efficient alternative to diesel. As for the passenger experience, it’s one quiet ride.

Electric airplanes may become a reality sooner than we think as Norway launched its inaugural flight of an electric two-seater plane last June.  With some of the busiest flight routes in Europe, Norway is striving to be a pioneer in the electric airplane industry with hopes of launching its first commercial electric-powered aircraft within the next 10 years.


When we hear today’s buzz about electric engines our minds turn to Tesla,  the American multinational corporation that specializes in electric vehicles. Norway is no stranger to Tesla, as the country boasts one of the largest Tesla markets selling around 8,500 cars last year. This comes on the wings of western Europe’s largest oil and gas exporter pledging to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent by 2030. This dedication to clean living has prompted Norway to use the tourism sales pitch “Powered by Nature” to further their efforts to be a pioneer in the electric plane market.

Electric flight

The two-seater electric plane made by Slovenian manufacturer Pipistrel took off from Oslo Airport with none other than the transport minister in the passenger seat. With a flight time of up to one hour, this groundbreaking test-flight may just be the beginning of pollution-free aviation, according to Avinor, a state-owned company that operates Norway’s airports.

Cleaner, quieter skies

Since jet engines run on fuel they not only produce fossil-fuel emissions but noisy skies. Electric engines can be the answer to both of these environmental issues but not without limitations. With cleaner, quieter skies comes the question, “Where does the pilot recharge the plane?” The reality is planes need to land somewhere to refuel, but in the case of electric planes it’s a matter of recharging.

Vaughn’s take

Capt. Pete Russo, PhD, department chair and assistant professor of aviation at Vaughn College weighed in on the future of electric airplanes. “I’m in favor of electric airplanes,” said Russo. “The electronics in today’s planes is already advancing beyond our expectations. The work being done in Norway is demonstrating the capability of what we need to create pollution-free aviation.” Russo said the manufacturing of electric engines weighs heavily on the industry and making the switch to electric would have a major impact on how we approach the future of aviation. “Tesla has revolutionized the electric car industry,” said Russo. “It’s just a matter of time before we see electric planes in our skies.”

Airports getting on board

Airports servicing electric planes will need to get on board with a new flight planning process to accommodate this new wave of aviation.  Here are a few ways airports and aviation personnel will need to adapt:

  • Airports will need to install charging stations
  • Flight times will need to be adjusted since electric planes fly at a slower rate of speed than jet-propelled engines and will need time to recharge
  • Pilots will need to track their charge the same way they monitor their fuel supply.

Charging ahead

Some say it’s not a matter of “if” but “when” that we see electric airplanes in our skies. The possibility of electric-flight covering short distances may be in our future, but skeptics say there’s no indication we may be replacing today’s long-haul flights with electric propulsion.