Celebrating Student Success During AAPI Heritage Month

May 13, 2021 Vaughn Spotlights

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
Sadia Afrin, AAPI student
Sadia Afrin’s ’24, Aircraft Operations

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
Anton DeGuzman, AAPI student
Anton DeGuzman ’24, Mechatronic Engineering

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
Alexa Rae Cruz, AAPI student
Alexa Rae Cruz ’22, Aeronautical Science

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.”

—Sadia Afrin

“My hope is this month’s celebration brings more peace, less violence and more awareness and understanding for all people and cultures.”

—Anton DeGuzman

“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!