Futureproof Focus Podcast: Suraiya Nawaz ’24 Shares her Passion for Sustainability and Female Empowerment in Engineering

September 26, 2023 Podcasts

In episode 9 of Vaughn’s Futureproof Focus Podcast, Dr. Sharon B. De Vivo, president and chief executive officer of Vaughn College and podcast host, sat down with Vaughn mechatronic engineering major, Suraiya Nawaz ’24, for an enlightening conversation about how her time at Vaughn—along with the internships she has secured—are setting her up for a successful future career.

Discovering Vaughn

Nawaz never considered engineering as a career until she attended a career fair at her high school. It was there that she said she discovered Vaughn and all the engineering degree programs the College has to offer. “After speaking to the representatives at the Vaughn booth, I learned that the College was so close to my home,” she said. “After doing some additional research, I decided Vaughn would be an excellent fit for me.” Nawaz chose to major in mechatronic engineering since the field is a combination of three engineering disciplines: mechanical, electrical and computer.

Embracing the Vaughn experience

As a rising senior, Nawaz stated that being active on campus in the many clubs and organizations at Vaughn, proved instrumental in helping nurture her leadership skills as she embraced the field of engineering. When she was a freshman, she joined the Society of Women in Engineering (SWE) and held several roles over the years—including her current role as secretary of the chapter. “I wanted to connect with other women in the field,” she explained. “Joining clubs not only helps give you a better understanding of the industry but is also a great way to break out of your comfort zone.” Feeding her interest in engineering, Nawaz joined Vaughn’s Mars Rover Club, where she gained hands-on experience in the construction of rovers and participated in national competitions. “I’m grateful to Vaughn for the opportunity to participate in these invigorating competitions,” she said. “Vaughn supports its students by covering all of the financial expenses to attend the competitions, so we can gain the real-life experience necessary to succeed in the field.”

Valuing Internships

As one of the recipients of the four-year full-tuition LaGuardia Redevelopment Opportunity Scholarship—which is sponsored in partnership with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (PANYNJ) and Vaughn College—Nawaz was afforded several internship opportunities, which she considers steppingstones to her current internship at the Whirlpool Corporation. “My first internship was working at Terminal B at LaGuardia, where I assisted with inspections and safety work. After that, I had the pleasure of working at the Border Authority Aviation Headquarters at the Walton Center, where I worked every day helping with the Wi-Fi service at John F. Kennedy International Airport. It was an amazing feeling knowing my work at these internships made a difference,” she said proudly. “Internships are no longer about filing and getting coffee. They are an opportunity to work on real projects that contribute to the life of the organization and help the company save money by fixing problems.”

In addition to the two PANYNJ internships, Nawaz landed another at Tesla, where she discovered a connection with automation. “I really loved working there. I even worked with a robot! I can see myself working in automation in the future.” She said the tasks at her internship at Whirlpool align with more traditional manufacturing. “I was placed on a big project in the welding department,” she said. “I contributed to conversations with the team. It was a big responsibility.”

Empowering Women

As a woman of color in pursuit of an engineering career, Nawaz is optimistic about her future. “I felt nervous and a bit hesitant my first month there,” she admitted. “The field is still very male dominated. But my manager was female, and that made all the difference. I felt comfortable going to her with questions, which made it easy to hit the ground running. I never felt like I would be treated differently or not receive opportunities because of my gender.”

Looking to the Future

Although Nawaz is leaning toward pursuing a career in automation, she still hasn’t given up on her hope of one day working in the aerospace industry. “Today’s technical advancements are ever-changing,” she said. “I believe robotics will be a big part of the future. I hope my dream job falls somewhere in the middle.”

Are you seeking an exciting career in engineering? Vaughn’s leading-edge degree in mechatronic engineering is accredited by the Engineering Accreditation Commission (EAC) of ABET and is one of only four in the country to hold this distinction. Discover how our degree programs can set you on a path to a successful future.

Listen to episode 9 of the podcast here.