As Vaughn College continues to celebrate Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month, we are pleased to highlight Vaughn mechatronic engineering graduate Ryan Tang ’17. We caught up with Tang to hear his inspirational story after graduating from Vaughn and how his journey post-graduation has circled back to the classroom.
Steeped in his roots
Tang is proud of his Asian heritage and says being raised with strong cultural connections by his Taiwanese parents gave him the confidence he needed to be the inspirational professional he is today. Born in Ecuador, Tang explained how at an early age, his parents insisted he learn their native language of Mandarin. “We speak Mandarin in our household,” Tang said. “I’m grateful to my parents for being strict with me about learning our language. Being fluent in Mandarin is giving me a competitive edge in my career.”
Finding his passion
Even at a young age, Tang said he loved engineering, and says that his high school experience led him on the path to becoming an educator and mentor. “I believe my high school years fed my inner passion to want to help students, particularly in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) programs,” Tang explained. “My sisters are educators, so I suppose this passion to teach runs in our family,” he continued.
As a lover of robotics, Tang discovered Vaughn and was drawn to its mechatronic engineering program. “I knew Vaughn was the perfect college for me,” Tang said. “Sharing my passion for engineering and robotics with my classmates who were equally as excited gave me the inspiration and encouragement to excel.” Tang quickly made his mark on campus. In 2015, he co-founded the unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) team, which he remains involved with to this day as a consultant and adviser. Tang said it was this type of role—as mentor and teacher—that shifted his path from future engineer to educator.
Teaching mechatronic engineering
After graduation, Tang didn’t need to go far to land his first job. He began teaching at Vaughn as an adjunct professor, leading courses in robotics and mechatronic engineering. “I owe my passion for both teaching and engineering to my Vaughn professors, Dr. Rahemi and Dr. He,” he said humbly. “Their dedication to their students’ success inspired me to do the same for others.”
Tang decided to take his passion for learning one step further and is pursuing a master’s in engineering education. “It was important to me to continue my education in both engineering and education,” he explained. “I want to be the best I can be for my students.”
Currently on the weekends, Tang works as the head coach and STEM coordinator at KG CompuTech, a computer-training center for young students in Flushing, Queens where he teaches computer technology and robotics to middle school and high school students. “I love motivating and encouraging my students to learn critical thinking skills. They love competing in the robotics competitions.” Tang says his students see him as combination of drill sergeant and big brother. “I work my students hard to keep them focused, but I always make it a point to spend time with them after our work is done. They need to talk, and I’m there to listen and mentor them. It’s a rewarding profession and I wouldn’t want it any other way.”
His advice to students
As an Asian American, Tang said he’s proud to be represented during AAPI Heritage Month. Coming from an Asian American household, he encourages students to embrace their culture, work hard, stay motivated and not fall behind.
When asked why he chose to teach engineering instead of working as an engineer, his answer was simple: “It’s more rewarding to inspire 100 students to become engineers than to work in the field as one person. There’s power in numbers. I believe motivating and encouraging students to pursue their dreams is the perfect equation to creating a future of leaders and innovators.”
Welcome to a special edition of the Vaughn College Blog. This month, we’re celebrating Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month and recognizing Asian and Pacific Island Americans at Vaughn who are preparing for futureproof careers and whose heritage has made a powerful impactful on their experience and growth. See why choosing Vaughn has given them a place to feel excited and empowered.
Sadia Afrin: Breaking gender and cultural barriers
Breaking gender and cultural norms are the driving forces behind 19-year-old Vaughn student Sadia Afrin’s ’24 journey, as she pursues a career in aircraft operations with the hope of someday becoming a commercial airline pilot. Born in the United States and raised in the South Asian country of Bangladesh, Afrin always knew she wanted to become a pilot but realized it would take determination and the right institution to make it happen.
At the age of 15, she moved to New York with her family and attended high school in Queens. Her passion for flying was prevalent throughout her high school years, but she was aware of the gender disparities that she would need to address as she pursued this path. “In some cultures, life and careers are gender-specific,” Afrin said. “Becoming a pilot was not on my radar as a child. It was important to me to break that barrier and pursue my dream. Settling for another profession was not an option for me. That’s when I found Vaughn College.” As the oldest of three girls, Afrin said she feels a responsibility to her younger sisters to lead by example and pave the way for more diversity in aviation. “One of the greatest things about Vaughn is the campus’ diversity. Everyone is so friendly and welcoming. I never felt out of place.”
When it comes to flying, she said there’s no greater feeling. “You forget all your problems on the ground. You’re living in the moment. It’s empowering.” Afrin said the key to unlocking her dream of becoming an Asian female pilot was never allowing traditional gender roles to stand in her way. She instead took those challenges and used them as her motivation and inspiration to pursue her career. She said she is grateful to her parents for supporting her dreams. Becoming a female pilot may not be part of her culture’s traditions, but she hopes that—someday—her goal of flying for a commercial airline will inspire other Asian American girls to follow their dreams, too.
Anton DeGuzman: Building a dream
For 19-year-old mechatronic engineering major Anton DeGuzman ’24, having a curious mind about how things are built is just one of the reasons he’s pursuing an engineering degree at Vaughn College. Another reason: diversity. Although he was born in Saudi Arabia, DeGuzman’s family is from the Philippines and they moved to Corona, New York when Anton was only three years old. And even at that early age, he was fascinated with how things worked.
In high school, he began researching the best colleges for his future when he discovered Vaughn. “I was very impressed with Vaughn College. It’s one of only a few colleges in the country that offers a mechatronic engineering degree that is accredited by the Engineering Technology Accreditation Commission of the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET),” DeGuzman said. Being able to afford a college education was a concern, as it is with most students. During his senior year of high school, DeGuzman applied for—and was the recipient of—one of five Port Authority of New York and New Jersey Scholarships, which rewards selected students with a full four-year scholarship to Vaughn, paid summer internships and a guaranteed job after graduation in a “futureproof” career. “I was shocked and thrilled when I received the news of receiving the scholarship,” DeGuzman said excitedly. “I knew I was on my way to pursuing my dream career.” Knowing he had college paid for was a huge weight off his shoulders, but his concern for inclusion was his last hurdle. “Diversity played a major role in deciding on Vaughn to pursue my degree. Being a part of the Vaughn community made me feel welcome and safe. As an Asian American, I found a place where I knew I would fit in. That was important to me.”
Alexa Rae Cruz: Leading the way for women
At 21 years old, Vaughn aeronautical science student Alexa Rae Cruz ’22 says pride, leadership and an ‘A-ha!’ moment defined her goal of becoming a pilot. “As an Asian American, I always felt a sense of pride and responsibility to lead the way for other Asian girls like myself,” said Cruz. She explained how her mother and stepfather were both shoe designers who travelled extensively for their jobs. Growing up, Cruz would travel with her parents. She enjoyed her time at different airports where she watched the planes take off and land. “One day, I was sitting in the window seat of a plane and had an ‘A-ha!’ moment. That was the day I knew I wanted to work in the aviation industry.” She said she never imagined she would aspire to become a pilot, since she had close ties to the fashion industry and the medical field. “I knew at an early age that the medical field or the shoe business would not be the paths for me,” said Cruz. “You could imagine my parents’ reaction when I told them I wanted to be a pilot!” Cruz said her parents are supportive of her decision and want her to live a life that makes her happy. She emphasizes her love for her family and states that these strong bonds kept her close to home when applying to colleges. She chose Vaughn for its diverse student community and said living on campus (prior to the COVID-19 pandemic) was a great experience.
“The student diversity brings so many unique perspectives to Vaughn,” Cruz explained. “It’s what brings the College to life!” Her leadership qualities have paved the way for her passion to be a role model for other AAPI women. “You don’t see many women of our culture in the industry right now,” Cruz said. “I feel the responsibility to represent my generation and be that person to help others feel like they fit in.”
Their thoughts on Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month
When asked how they felt about this month’s celebration of AAPI Heritage Month, the common thread among Afrin, DeGuzman and Cruz is their overwhelming feelings of pride, inclusion and acceptance.
“As an Asian American woman, this month marks a special time and a great opportunity for me to share my goals, culture and passion to work for gender equality.”
“My hope is this month’s celebration brings more peace, less violence and more awareness and understanding for all people and cultures.”
“It’s a beautiful thing that Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders are being recognized. I believe it’s way overdue. I am making it my mission to be a light and a leader for us all.”
—Alexa Rae Cruz
Are you looking for a college experience that makes you feel like you belong? Vaughn College keeps diversity and inclusion among its top priorities. We offer some of today’s most sought-after degrees in engineering and technology, management and aviation. Find out where a Vaughn degree can take you. Apply today!
There’s a new look on the horizon for commercial airline cockpits—and we’re not talking about the instrumentation. The airline industry is embracing its restart with a comeback that will be better than ever, with diversity and inclusion taking center stage.
Working the numbers
According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, 93.7 percent of professional pilots are white and 92.5 percent are male. The new industry initiatives hope to change these percentages. And the timing couldn’t be better as it comes on the heels of the nation’s ongoing pilot shortage.
Getting on board
Airlines are realizing they must broaden their scope when it comes to searching for talent. Many have pledged to make diversity a priority—at all levels—within their companies, and this encompasses hiring practices, management and company culture. Women, people of color and other underrepresented groups will be part of the industry restart initiative, keeping these demographics front and center when it comes to opening the doors of opportunity for careers in aviation.
United Airlines announced its new diversity goal and plans to train 5,000 new pilots by 2030, with at least half of them being women and people of color. Delta Air Lines committed to improving their efforts on a year-by-year basis. Last December, Delta joined forces with the founding members of OneTen, an organization of American corporations committed to hiring, training and promoting one million Black Americans over the next 10 years. American, Alaska Southwest and JetBlue are also making commitments to racial inclusion. Globally, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) launched its 25by2025 initiative, which aims to make aviation more gender-balanced by increasing the number of women in the industry by 25 percent by the year 2025.
For inner-city children of color, working in the aviation industry may not even be on their radar due to the lack of exposure and the high cost of becoming a pilot. Chairman of the Organization of Black Aerospace Professionals (OBAP) Joel Webley said airlines should increase their efforts with minority groups by putting an emphasis on providing paid internships for college students. Luckily, one of the many missions of Vaughn’s career services department is to create opportunities for students to get paid internships.
How Vaughn embraces diversity
The faces of the Vaughn College community are reflective of the diversity found in its home borough of Queens and of its core values of embracing diversity, welcoming students from all cultures, heritages and economic backgrounds. Also worth noting is how Vaughn’s aviation, engineering and technology, and management programs have attracted more women in recent years, and Vaughn President Dr. Sharon B. DeVivo is committed to growing female enrollment across all programs at the College.
“Vaughn’s diversity is our ‘super power,’” notes DeVivo. With 80 percent of our students coming from minority backgrounds and a majority, minority faculty and staff, we are committed to serving individuals from underrepresented groups and our graduates are changing the industry.”
DeVivo is also the national chair for the Youth in Access to Aviation Jobs in America Task Force and is working with a group of 20 national leaders to grow the pipeline of young people, specifically from underrepresented groups, pursuing careers in aviation and aerospace. The Task Force hopes to make their final recommendations to the Federal Aviation Administration and Congress in 2022.
Vaughn makes it affordable
Vaughn College offers federal, state and institutional funding to help students pay for their education. In fact, 90 percent of Vaughn students are eligible for some type of financial aid, with the average package totaling more than $15,000 per year. Vaughn also offers several scholarships and programs like HEOP (Arthur O. Eve Higher Education Opportunity Program) that help students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds to attend college.
Vaughn ranked number one in upward mobility
Part of Vaughn’s success is reflected by its impressive position of having been ranked as the nation’s number one college in upward mobility. According to a 2017 study published in The New York Times, Vaughn College is noted as “an institution doing more to impact social mobility for those who start from less fortunate means,” and is also listed as the top institution for moving students from the bottom percentages to the top 40 percent in income. The article stems from a study conducted by The Equality of Opportunity Project entitled, “Mobility Report Cards: The Role of Colleges in Intergenerational Mobility.”
In addition, Vaughn ranks high in both economic and ethnic student body diversity among US colleges and is also a federally designated Hispanic-serving institution.
Do you have a passion for flying? An aviation degree from Vaughn College can set your career soaring. Apply today!
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