Lonnie Johnson is an innovator, NASA engineer, member of the Air Force and inventor of the wildly popular Super Soaker—among other great inventions. Read on to learn about Johnson’s early passion for engineering and how his natural curiosity has led him to achieve an incredible career that continues to elevate him to new heights.
A curious nature
Born in Mobile, Alabama in 1949 Lonnie Johnson seemed destined for a life that involved the complexities of engineering, technology and science even before his invention of the Super Soaker. Early examples of this natural inclination toward science included reverse engineering one of his sister’s dolls in order to see how the eyes operated and building a go-cart that was powered by the engine of a lawnmower. By the time he was in high school, his aptitude for all things scientific earned him the nickname “The Professor” among his fellow students.
Preview to success
In 1968, Williamson High School was among the entries in a science fair that was sponsored by the Junior Engineering Technical Society (JETS) and held at the University of Alabama, in Tuscaloosa. Representing Williamson High School was Lonnie Johnson, who also happened to be the only Black student in the fair. The project that Johnson submitted for the science fair was “The Linex,” a compressed-air-power robot, which won the first prize.
In addition to science, Johnson was excellent in math, which helped him secure a scholarship to attend Tuskegee University. He received a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering and then went on to earn a master’s degree in nuclear engineering.
A military career
If Johnson’s academic achievements were impressive, they were only the beginning of greater things to come. Upon graduating from Tuskegee University, he began his professional career at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, a multi-program science and technology laboratory sponsored by the US Department of Energy. He also helped in the development of the stealth bomber program when he enlisted with the United States Air Force.
Eventually, Johnson’s talent in engineering and military background brought him to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in the late 1970s. Here, he performed double duty as a systems engineer for both the Galileo mission to Jupiter and the Cassini mission to Saturn. Johnson remained with the Air Force until 1987.
The invention of the Super Soaker
In 1982, Johnson was experimenting with the creation of a heat pump that would run on water instead of Freon. He attached some nozzles to his bathroom sink, which, when opened led to a powerful burst of water into his tub. This experiment led to an invention that—after seven years of redesigns and renames—became the world-famous water gun, the Super Soaker. So popular was this new toy, that in 1991 it generated $200 million in sales. In that same year, Johnson founded his own company, Johnson Research and Development Co., Inc. Later, Tuskegee University awarded him an honorary PhD in science in 2001 in recognition of his career achievements.
Johnson Thermoelectric Energy Converter (JTEC)
Another crowning achievement in the life and career of Lonnie Johnson was the creation of a special kind of engine. The purpose of this engine was to convert heat into electricity more efficiently. Upon completion, this engine—the Johnson Thermoelectric Energy Converter (JTEC)—went on to help in the progress of renewable energy and was listed as among the world-changing inventions by Popular Mechanics in 2008. In his ongoing effort to improve revolutionary energy technology, Johnson founded two companies—Excellatron Solid State and Johnson Battery Technologies, Inc.
Lonnie Johnson currently holds more than 100 patents with 20 more pending, many of which are connected to his invention of the Super Soaker and was named by IEEE Spectrum as being “part of a small group of African-American inventors whose work accounts for six percent of all US patent applications.”
The value of curiosity
If there is one constant to the life and career of Lonnie Johnson, it is curiosity. From his childhood when he examined how toys worked to becoming the inventor of the world-famous Super Soaker, to the creation of the JTEC, Johnson was never content to rest on past achievements. His curiosity keeps him seeking, inventing and inspiring.
As technology continues to advance, engineering roles in the manufacturing industry have evolved considerably. Despite all of these changes, manufacturing remains an in-demand career field with a bright outlook.
How technology is changing manufacturing
Yes, you might think that evolution and technical advancements in robotics, automation, artificial intelligence, 3D printing and machine learning would reduce manufacturing and engineering jobs. These breakthroughs, however, are actually creating jobs requiring more education and skills since some tasks are being covered by robotics and automation. As you might imagine, these highly skilled employees are also getting paid more. Manufacturing is becoming more efficient and precise in less time, increasing profit margins and customer satisfaction. For example, before 3D printing, it would take weeks to design and develop a prototype. Additive manufacturing has reduced that time to just a few hours so that more time can be devoted to testing and design optimization.
Promising careers that aspiring engineering students can look forward to considering include additive manufacturing or 3D printing, composite manufacturing and CNC machining (computer numerical control machines). And as these advancements continue, the demand to fill these positions will only become greater.
Vaughn is prepared to meet the engineering challenge
The COVID-19 pandemic has made manufacturers implement operating strategies that are flexible, resilient and innovative, which require skillsets to match. Much of the manufacturing workforce is on the verge of retirement, which is good news for engineering graduates who will be looking for jobs in the next few years. Vaughn’s engineering program prepares students for the ever-changing industries they will enter, like manufacturing. Vaughn’s professors have experience working in the fields in which they teach, which makes them able to help students apply their knowledge to real-life situations they’ll encounter on the job. This makes a Vaughn education that much more valuable. Vaughn students graduate with the skills they need to be successful in their fields right away.
The engineering and technology programs at Vaughn run the gamut from avionics to mechatronic engineering, among many other specialties. Two programs worth special consideration—which will give students who apply to them a competitive advantage—are our programs in mechatronic engineering and mechanical engineering: computer-aided design. Each program provides students with a well-rounded education that is complemented by hands-on experience, resulting in a solid foundation for a career in engineering. Vaughn also offers many certificate programs which can help working professionals advance their careers post-graduation.
November is National Aviation History Month. From the first glider flight over 100 years ago by the Wright Brothers to the largest aviation wonders of present, advancements in aviation engineering and technology have soared to new heights—literally. Airplanes are likely the first things that come to mind when we hear the word “aviation.” But where do helicopters and other vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) aircraft fit in to the mix?
This month, Vaughn College turns its sights to the history of personal VTOL aircrafts and chronicles the advancements, benefits, and future of this amazing technology. Did someone say “flying cars?”
For nearly 90 years, Vaughn has been steeped in aviation history. From opening its doors in 1932 as the Casey Jones School of Aeronautics to its present day ranking as one of the nation’s Best Colleges in the Regional North by U.S. News and World Report, Vaughn has remained true to its vision of educating and training its graduates for futureproof careers.
What are VTOL vehicles?
Vertical takeoff and landing aircrafts are vehicles that have the unique ability to depart, hover and land vertically. In addition to their unique take off and landing abilities, they can fly slowly and land in small spaces, unlike conventional aircraft. Today, there are two types of VTOL technology: rotary wing aircraft and powered lift. Here is how they compare:
Rotary wing aircraft or rotorcraft—These vehicles use lift to become airborne. Lift is generated from spinning rotor blades revolving around a central mast. The helicopter is a popular example of a rotary wing aircraft.
Powered-lift aircraft—These aircraft have a fixed wing design. Although they take off and land vertically, they perform differently than rotary wing aircraft when in flight. Some rely on the rotor for lift, and then switch to a fixed-wing lift while in flight, while others involve tilting the aircraft forward to achieve horizontal flight. Today, some powered-lift aircrafts are considered vertical and/short takeoff and landing (V/STOL) vehicles that can switch to conventional takeoff and landing (CTL).
The history of VTOL technology
Most would never connect the dots between Leonardo Da Vinci and helicopters. But did you know the famous Renaissance painter sketched an image resembling a helicopter that he named the “aerial screw.” It is believed he made small models of the design but never pursued vertical flight any further. One Italian who did make his mark in vertical flight was Enrico Forlanini. In 1877, Forlanini became the first to build an unmanned steam-powered helicopter that remained in the air for about 20 seconds. This first flight laid the foundation of rotary aircraft for years to come. Test your knowledge on more historic first flights in our blog: “Greatest First Flights in Aviation History in Honor of Aviation History Month.”
Advancements in engineering and technology
From the 1920s through the 1940s, inventors across the globe attempted to design and fly their experimental helicopters. Unfortunately, some met with disastrous results. It wasn’t until the 1950s when the widespread use of turbine engines helped lead the way to building the helicopters and modern VTOL aircraft we know today.
The “flying car” concept was first introduced after World War II. Even Henry Ford predicted it would be a reality in the near future. Ford, along with several automobile manufacturers and the US Army, delivered prototypes of “flying jeeps” The Ford Motor Company created a personal aircraft named the Volante Tri-Athodyne—a 3/8-to-scale concept car model that used three ducted fans to enable VTOL. Unfortunately, Ford abandoned the project. In 1956, the US Army initiated the largest innovation when it began investigating “flying jeeps” as an alternative to helicopters on account of their smaller size and ease of flying. Although the research was dismissed, the concept still lives on today. Read more about the future of flying cars in our blog: “Urban Air Mobility: Transforming Sky Transportation.”
Benefits of VTOL technology
Today’s engineers are designing electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft that use electric motors or batteries instead of fuel. This advancement is proving beneficial on several economic and environmental fronts. Here are some benefits of VTOL technology we are seeing today:
Lower overall vehicle costs due to a reduction in maintenance and fuel costs
Noise pollution and gas emissions reduction with more energy efficient vehicles
Combat or rescue situation usage stemming from more landing flexibility in small areas
Speed and accuracy due to wing optimization, since they do not control takeoff and landing
Faster aircraft due to less drag
The fast and futuristic
Aircraft racing is putting eVTOL on the fast track. Alauda Racing, an Australian aviation firm, is introducing the Airspeeder, the new electric VTOL that was modeled after the 1960s British Formula One race car. With original plans to race this year, Air Race E is organizing a World Cup of electric conventional takeoff and landing (eCTOL) aircraft. Pilots will experience onboard cameras and racing speeds up to 125 mph.
Closer to home at Vaughn
Vaughn’s Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Team has bragging rights of its own. For the past two years, the team placed first and second place, respectively, at the 2018 and 2019 Micro Air Vehicle Student Challenge Competition. They developed two drones to compete in both the manual and autonomous categories. Both drones were designed to perform VTOL with onboard flight-stabilization and camera. Way to go, team!
Today’s young engineers are entering an unprecedented market, as their skills are in high demand due to the specific industry needs resulting from the coronavirus pandemic. It therefore comes as no surprise that with high demand comes a competitive climate. So, what does it take for young engineers to edge out the competition and land the job?
This month, we turned to Dr. Shouling He, engineering professor, adviser and program coordinator for the mechatronic engineering program at Vaughn College, for her advice and tips on how young engineers can become top contenders in today’s hottest engineering market.
Build from the basics
Dr. He began by reinforcing the basic building blocks for anyone with a passion for engineering. She said in order for students to be successful in the field, their work ethic must be deeply rooted in these fundamental elements:
Being a practical problem solver
Ensuring the solution to the problem makes sense, and particularly paying attention to units and the order of magnitude in engineering design and analysis
Breaking a complex problem into smaller and manageable pieces, and then solving them step-by-step
Ability to work in teams and being a good project planner
Top skills for today’s market
Today’s engineering market is fast-paced and changing before our eyes. Dr. He explained that for young engineers to capitalize on this trend, they should have a broad range of knowledge. She said Vaughn’s mechatronic engineering program is the perfect fit for today’s ever-changing market. The program focuses on mechanical, electrical and computer engineering, which are considered among the top skills that companies are seeking today. Were you aware that Vaughn’s mechatronic engineering program is one of only four mechatronic programs in the country accredited by the Engineering Accreditation Commission (EAC)? This distinction signifies the rigor of the program and is a reflection of Vaughn’s dedication of giving students the education and tools they need in order to have successful careers in the field of engineering.
Landing the job
In today’s COVID-19 era, competition may be more prevalent than ever. Competition can, however, be a good thing. It drives one to up their game and demands them to fine-tune their skills. Dr. He advises her students to focus on both their personal qualities as well as their professional ones. Here are some tips she offers young engineers to gear up for the job market:
Things to do during a job search:
– Read the job postings carefully
– Fine-tune résumés and prepare best samples from your course projects and labs
– Research the company
Key qualities to edge out the competition:
– Focus on strengths and do not feel intimidated
– Be an excellent communicator and share your thoughts and opinions
– Have confidence in your abilities
– Have hands-on experience
– Have a positive attitude and be willing to work in a team
In addition to the tips listed above, Dr. He emphasized the importance of students attending engineering conferences and job fairs hosted by Vaughn. Even in today’s climate, conference and fairs can be attended virtually. Did you know that more than 164 companies recruited at job fairs hosted by Vaughn last year? Vaughn students have landed jobs with industry leaders that include Lockheed Martin, Boeing Company and Daimler Trucks North America, just to name a few. Read the success story about recent Vaughn graduate, Atif Saeed ’20, and how his degree in mechatronic engineering landed him a job as a mechanical engineer at Lockheed Martin.
Will you be graduating soon? Earning your degree is a milestone and one to be proud of. Combining your knowledge with your unique personal strengths can prove to be a winning combination to a successful career. Here are some additional tips that Dr. He believes can position you for a chance to land your dream job:
Be willing to work hard
Complete tasks on time
Accept there will be challenges to face as technology changes rapidly
Have excellent oral and written communication skills
Have the capability to learn new things—and be prepared to learn them yourself
Dr. He’s Vision
With almost 35 years of experience in the fields of aerospace engineering and artificial intelligence, among others, Dr. He brings a host of knowledge to Vaughn and her students. During her nine years at Vaughn, she said nothing has made her happier than seeing her students follow their passion for engineering. As a woman engineer herself, she is proud to see more female students wanting to enter the field. “As a mostly male-dominated field, we are seeing women having an advantage over men in some aspects of engineering,” Dr. He explained. “Women pay more attention to detail and tend to be more consistent—especially when it comes to computer programming.”
As the world continues to change, Dr. He said one thing remains constant. “We give our students the knowledge and skills they can build on throughout their lives,” she said. “The exciting part is seeing how they will use them to develop and design new concepts and new products for our future.”
Since the coronavirus pandemic struck the United States earlier this year, engineers and technologists have remained in high demand. Dice, a leading technology career hub which connects employers with skilled technology professionals, analyzed the job positions and skills that rose highest in demand between February and March of 2020.
According to the results of the Dice Tech Job Report*, the need for technologists is more critical than ever, as technology plays a key role in making this unexpected transition to a remote workplace a smooth and successful one.
Why techies are critical employees
Source: Labor Insight Jobs (Burning Glass Technologies)
The shift from businesses operating from their headquarters to a remote workplace had employers— almost overnight—examining their remote frameworks. Technologists were needed just as quickly to execute critical components to expedite the widespread conversion.
Here are some examples of how businesses pivoted to maintain communication and operations between employees and clients:
Meetings became video calls (Zoom being one of the most popular)
Conferences turned into webinars
Conversations shifted to instant messaging
To keep business flowing as usual, engineers and tech professionals were needed to work behind the scenes to meet the demands of a changing world and workplace. Here are a few job titles of the tech professionals needed to make all of this happen:
And, here are two critical components that tech professionals addressed to keep the remote workplace running smoothly:
Ensuring remote frameworks and infrastructure are secure
Ensuring employees had reliable connectivity to work from outside the office
Where the jobs are
Source: Labor Insight Jobs (Burning Glass Technologies)
Technology, or tech giants, consulting agencies and government contractors top the list of tech employers who were hiring during the first quarter of 2020, according to the Dice report. This is great news for Vaughn College students who are currently pursuing engineering degrees, as Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and the Boeing Company fall among the list of the top 25 tech companies listed in the Dice report.
Read about Vaughn graduate Atif Saeed ’20 who started a job at Lockheed Martin this summer working as a mechanical engineer.
Engineers and tech professionals may be interested to learn that between February and March of this year, online retail giant Amazon increased its technology job postings by 110 percent—looking specifically for software developers and network engineers. This comes as no surprise since consumers used Amazon as an alternative to shopping at grocery stores and other essential retailers during the lockdown. Walmart increased its technology postings by 64 percent in March—in addition to the 150,000 employees they pledged to hire—and specifically sought to hire software developers and project managers.
Source: Labor Insight Jobs (Burning Glass Technologies)
According to the Dice report, different states showed varying growth, depending on how each state reacted to the COVID-19 lockdown. In New York, for example, the state was quick to enforce a stricter “stay at home” order, compared to other states that were slower to require that non-essential employees work remotely.
Shift in job postings due to pandemic
Cybersecurity engineering jobs topped the list of having the most uptick in job postings, according to the Dice report. Cybersecurity engineering job postings surged by 20 percent during February and March of this year, as businesses took a proactive approach to combating pandemic-themed phishing and cyber-attacks. System engineers were also in demand, having placed at 11 percent, and showing a clear indication that companies were concerned with maintaining their network and computer infrastructure.
Discover a futureproof career at Vaughn
The job outlook for the engineering and technology fields remains bright, and will remain so, despite the recent surge in demand during the pandemic. If your passion lies within these futureproof fields, then now is the time to capture this opportunity by earning your engineering and technology degree from Vaughn College.
Job numbers are on the rise as the economy begins to open up after the economic shutdown due to COVID-19. Throughout the pandemic, several industries actually saw a rise in demand as they became an essential part of assisting in critical operations.
This month, Vaughn College is spotlighting three industries that are thriving during these uncertain times. The exciting news is how the College’s futureproof degrees in engineering and technology, management and aviation are showing their value, even during a pandemic, as some of these essential industries made the list. Read on to learn more about them. We have even matched up the degree you will need to land the job. Which one suits you?
The air cargo market has seen a recent surge in demand, as airfreight and cargo companies have become an essential part of transporting medical supplies and other life-saving equipment during the coronavirus pandemic. According to a recent market report—“Global Air Cargo Market 2020-2024”—released last month by Technavio (a global technology research and advisory company), the air cargo market is expected to grow by 16.75 million tons during the four-year time frame. It is reported that an increase in e-commerce sales has been a key factor in driving the growth of the cargo aviation market. Airlines that include The Emirates Group, United Parcel Service (UPS) Inc., Delta Air Lines, FedEx Corp., and others are among the market participants.
Boeing is also finding its way back to the runways as the revival of the air cargo market is fueling new deals for its cargo planes. With three different types of cargo jets and converted passenger-to-cargo planes in its fleet, the company is receiving orders from delivery service giants like UPS and FedEx.
Closer to home, Vaughn’s long-term relationship with Atlas Air has resulted in several alumni landing internships and ultimately full-time positions with this renowned aviation cargo company. Karen Batson ’04, Vaughn alumna and adjunct faculty member, has been instrumental in hiring more than 30 of the College’s graduates to work at Atlas Air because she knows how Vaughn prepares graduates for the aviation field and successful careers. Last year, Vaughn honored William J. Flynn, chair of the board and chief executive officer of Atlas Air Worldwide Holdings, Inc. at their annual gala that celebrates professionals in the industry. In his speech, Flynn stated: “Ten percent of our workforce in our New York headquarters are Vaughn College graduates. Many more graduates work elsewhere across our company. Several of our employees are now teaching at Vaughn. And countless more have mentored Vaughn students through our ongoing internship program. The work that Vaughn is doing is so critical to propelling this industry forward. Vaughn is developing some of the best and brightest minds in the workforce today.”
Interested in working in cargo aviation? Vaughn offers the following degree that could land you a job in the field. Which will you choose?
The urgent demand for medical technology during the pandemic has placed engineers front and center, as their skills and knowledge continue to play a significant role in patient care. From building life-saving ventilators to managing and tracking medical technology in hospitals, engineers are proving to be more essential now than ever before. Biomedical engineers, along with engineers who specialize in the mechatronic or robotics field, are also making their marks.
The use of robotic technology is on the rise, aiding the medical profession in ways that we once thought of as futuristic possibilities. Robots are stepping up in a big way as COVID-19 has shifted us from being a “hands-on” society to a “touchless” one. In fact, it’s believed the longest lasting effect of the coronavirus will be the use of automation. So, what does this all mean? To reduce human exposure in high-touch areas, robots are being used to disinfect and deliver goods and services, among other tasks. Additionally, robotics technologies are being valued for their profitability and are now viewed as critical components in a company’s infrastructure, similar to the way organizations may see computers and other key infrastructure.
Do you have a passion for robotics and engineering? Vaughn offers New York’s first bachelor of science degree program in mechatronic engineering, a unique curriculum that combines mechanical, electrical and computer engineering. This degree program is accredited by the Engineering Accreditation Commission (EAC) of ABET (abet.org).
In addition to robotics, Vaughn offers several engineering and technology degrees that can set you on a path to a futureproof career. Are you ready to join one of the world’s fastest growing fields? See which one is right for you?
Most of us do not think about how we get our electricity. We just flip a switch and expect it to be there. With the majority of us under quarantine and working from home due to the coronavirus, the demand for electricity is higher than ever. Utility workers have always had an essential role in our daily lives. Add a pandemic to the mix, and their roles are even greater.
Vaughn College’s Aviation Training Institute can prepare you for a high-paying career as a certified airframe and powerplant technician. Did you know there are many reasons to launch a career in aviation maintenance? Aviation maintenance technicians have well-rounded knowledge and skills to work in a variety of fields. And those who are trained with an airframe and powerplant certification can work on any turbine engine. This valuable skill opens the doors to work on aircraft, trains and automobiles, and in power generation for electric, solar and wind companies.
Are you interested in working in the utility industry? Vaughn offers programs that can help you secure a job in the field.
In these times of uncertainty, one thing is certain. Now is the time to set yourself on a path to a futureproof career. See how a degree from Vaughn College can get your there. Apply today.
Calling future engineers! Vaughn has pulled out all the stops as the College introduces its first-ever virtual engineering competition as part of its summer academy program. Imagine putting your ingenuity and problem-solving skills to the test while competing for a chance to win scholarship money to Vaughn? If you are passionate about engineering and have the competitive edge to show off your skills while solving some of the world’s most serious problems right now, then buckle up for a fun and exciting summer experience. Here is what you need to know:
The six-week program offers qualifying students a chance to earn three (3) Vaughn College credits at no cost, as well as a chance to win scholarship money to Vaughn. Here is what you need to know about the program:
Students will make a difference by tackling a contemporary problem related to modern circumstances—such as pandemics, societal issues, climate change and the like—that may have an engineering-related solution.
Students will work in small teams of three to create an idea and sustainable operations model that will take the form of a product or service that is responsive to clients and investors.
Classes will be synchronous and completed online via Zoom.
Webinars will feature guest speakers (engineering entrepreneurs) on a variety of topics discussing real-world experiences.
Students will pitch products/services to simulated investors on August 14 for the chance to win scholarship money to Vaughn.
First Place – $7,500 per team member
Second Place – $5,000 per team member
Third Place – $2,500 per team member
When is it?
The course runs Monday, July 6 through Friday, August 14.
Speaker Series Schedule: Fridays 12 p.m. – 1 p.m.
July 10: Young Entrepreneurs Speak
July 17: Women Entrepreneurs Speak
July 24: Global Entrepreneurial Programs
July 31: IP and Standards Explained
August 7: Getting Financing
August 14: Summer Academy Pitches
NOTE: There is a nine-student minimum to run the program. Scholarship awards can be combined with current offers but cannot exceed the cost of tuition.
How do I enroll?
(Submissions are due no later than June 18 at 12:59 p.m.)
Eligible students should post a 30-45-second video on Instagram that details a world problem they are passionate about solving.
The following information should be addressed in the video:
A world problem that you are passionate about which could be solved with an engineering solution
How Vaughn’s Engineering Innovation Summer Academy would help you explore that world problem
Why you are excited about winning scholarship money to Vaughn College
The following criteria is required:
Tag @vaughncollege on your video to ensure we can access your video for consideration
After acceptance to the summer program, you will be asked to complete an application to attend Vaughn College, where your application fee will be waived.
Gaining a valuable experience
In such uncertain times, the summer academy program at Vaughn opens the door to students to gain valuable experience at both a personal and professional level. Here is what you will gain:
Making your mark among your peers by solving some of the world’s current modern-day problems
Studying locally, studying safe
Enjoying small class sizes and individualized attention
Engineering Entrepreneur Speaker Series
For those who want to hear from the experts but not compete, Vaughn is also offering a webinar speaker series where you can hear engineering entrepreneurs speak about their experiences. Webinars will be held every Friday from July 10 to August 7 at 12 p.m. You can listen to the webinars for FREE, or purchase access to the videos for a limited time, receive the ability to ask questions of the speakers and obtain membership to the Institute of Electronic and Electrical Engineers (IEEE).
Tier One Access: FREE
You will receive FREE live Speaker Series Webinar access every Friday from 12 p.m. to 1 p.m. from July 10 through August 7.
Part of knowing where you want to go in life is embracing where you have been. For Rafacely Brito ’21, a junior majoring in mechanical engineering at Vaughn College, accepting certain disadvantages as she grew up inspired her to encourage less fortunate students to follow their dreams.
For years, Vaughn College has been instrumental in preparing underserved middle school and high school students in the New York area for a brighter future. Through college readiness programs like Upward Bound and the Science and Technology Entry Program (STEP), the dream of receiving a college education, for low-income and disadvantaged students, is becoming a reality. This past February, Brito began working at Vaughn alongside a team that makes this happen. Here is her story.
At the age of 26, Brito believes that looking back on her childhood in Yonkers, New York has given her a greater appreciation of the path she is on today. Raised in a low-income family, Brito admits life was a bit challenging. Through it all, she always maintained excellent grades and excelled in math and science. As the time grew closer for Brito to attend high school, her parents decided to move the family to a better socio-economic area where she and her brother could receive a better education. “It was hard for me to leave my friends, but hindsight has shown me that my parents made the best move for us.”
After high school, Brito began a modeling career—all while having the desire to attend college. A few years later, she enrolled at Bronx Community College, where she earned her associate degree in engineering science. After graduation, she had her heart set on enlisting in the United States Air Force. “I decided to take a cruise with my friends before enlisting. That is when my life took a turn. That’s when I found Vaughn.” While on the cruise, she received an email from her high school guidance counselor about a mechanical engineering scholarship at Vaughn College. “I was so excited to learn of the scholarship,” Brito exclaimed. “The rest is history.”
Life at Vaughn
Brito embraced her engineering studies at Vaughn. She said having a curious mind made engineering the perfect fit for her career path. “I was always inquisitive,” Brito said. “I remember driving over a bridge at a young age and wondering how the bridge was built.” Although the course work is admittedly challenging, she said having professors who bring real-life industry experience makes all the difference.
Working at Vaughn
This past February, Brito began her part-time job at Vaughn as an administrative assistant for the STEP program, where she handles student outreach and administrative tasks. Little did she know that a few weeks later, the COVID-19 outbreak would shut down the campus and the country. “At first, I thought the timing couldn’t have been worse, but then I realized how the programs we offer are more important now than ever due to distance learning,” she explained. Balancing her new job with distance learning as a full-time student is challenging, to say the least. Brito thanks Vaughn’s outstanding faculty and staff, and believes the experience is better than she imagined it would be.
Vaughn’s dedication to education is evident, as the College continues to run the Department of Education’s Upward Bound program and STEP, which is funded by the State of New York’s Education Department. Not sure what these programs offer? Here’s how college readiness programs help pave the way for students from low-income families:
This federally funded program, also known as TRiO, provides high school students from low-income families or first-generation college students with the opportunity to sharpen their precollege skills in preparation for their college pursuits. The goal of Upward Bound is to increase secondary education completion and encourage students’ enrollment in, and graduation from, postsecondary education institutions. Vaughn currently has a five-year partnership with Richmond Hill, Grover Cleveland, and August Martin High Schools, which are all located in the Queens area.
Upward Bound helps students by providing:
Tutoring and homework help
Cultural enrichment and field trips
Education and counseling services
College and financial aid application assistance
Founded in 1986, the purpose of STEP is to increase the number of underrepresented and disadvantaged students who are preparing to enter college by improving their readiness in the subjects of mathematics, science, technology, health-related fields and the licensed professions.
The program offers academic enrichment through services that include:
Core subject instruction/Regents exam preparation
Supervised practical training
Supervised research training
College admissions counseling
Standardized tests preparation
Career awareness/development activities
Student readiness components include:
Robotics and coding—STEM focused
Enriching science and mathematics instruction
Providing laboratories for supervised training in research method
Conducting summer programs
Providing standardized test preparation and practice
Assisting students with the college application process
Brito said that helping students through the STEP program is not only rewarding but it makes her realize how fortunate today’s students are to have access to college readiness programs such as these. “I didn’t have these opportunities when I was in high school,” she said. “I’m fortunate to have the chance to instill in today’s students the importance of getting the help they need now to prepare them for college and beyond.”
Throughout the year, students who participate in the programs meet on Saturdays to get the help they need. Currently, the staff is gearing up for the summer program, which will meet Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, administrators are shifting gears by replacing field trips with virtual tours and providing offerings online. They are also planning fun and informative workshops to complement academic instruction.
“I’m proud to be a part of this program,” Brito said. “I believe we are making a difference in the lives of these students. The college readiness programs keep the students engaged, focused and off the streets. During these uncertain times, I can’t think of a better way to spend the days.”
Going above and beyond and embracing opportunities has led Vaughn senior Atif Saeed ’20 to achieve academic success throughout his life. At 22 years old, Saeed will be graduating summa cum laude next month with a bachelor of science in mechatronic engineering—completing the program one year early.
He credits Vaughn College for supporting him every step of the way and offering opportunities that he says were stepping-stones to his success. Here’s his story.
Born in Pakistan, Saeed moved to upstate New York with his parents and two siblings when he was three years old. In 2012, his family moved to New York City where Saeed attended high school. Knowing he and his siblings could be first-generation college graduates in his family, Saeed said he was very motivated to attend college earlier than the normal timeframe. He began a dual-enrollment program in high school, where he took online college courses to fast track his graduation in three years instead of four. “I watched my father work 14-hour days to support our family,” Saeed said humbly. “I felt strongly about working and studying hard to earn my college degree and pursue a career that could help my family.” Looking back, he said taking engineering courses early on in high school gave him a head start to gain the knowledge he needed to succeed in college.
Passion for aviation
Growing up, Saeed said he was obsessed with watching documentaries that explained how things are built. He explained how his passion for aviation stemmed from a family trip to Dubai about 10 years ago. “We boarded an Airbus A380 aircraft and I was immediately in awe of the size of the plane,” he said. “That day was the turning point for me. It was then I realized I wanted to work with aircrafts.”
There’s no denying Saeed studied diligently throughout his time at Vaughn; however, he believes it was going beyond the walls of the classroom that helped set his future on a track for success. “I made it a priority to take on leadership roles in several clubs at Vaughn,” he said. “I embraced every opportunity that was offered to further my education and knowledge in the field.” To date, he holds two licenses and certifications, including the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Airframe and Powerplant License and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) General Radiotelephone Operator license. Additionally, he has authored four publications presented at industry conferences and has received several awards throughout his time at Vaughn. Saeed said he believes the strong relationships he built with his professors, faculty and career services department were instrumental in helping him prepare for a successful career.
Stepping-stones to his future
First and foremost, Saeed believes anyone can be successful if they are willing to work hard and do what it takes to achieve it. “Attitude is everything. From a young age, I was taught to go above and beyond anyone’s expectations, including your own,” he said humbly. “You only answer to yourself. If you do whatever it takes to rise above the rest, you can achieve anything.”
He shares some tips on what students can do while in college to make themselves competitive after graduation:
Connect with faculty and build strong relationships
Keep an open mind
Start building resumes early
Don’t give up
With several job offers on the table and numerous acceptances to graduate programs across the country, Saeed is gearing up for the next chapter in his life after graduation. “I believe today’s students need to be laser-focused on acquiring the necessary tools and knowledge to be competitive in today’s market,” he said. “Vaughn can get you there.”
The next chapter
Saeed loves a challenge and the next chapter of his life will be no different. In June, he will begin his new job at Lockheed Martin Space in Sunnyvale, California, working as a mechanical engineer. Alongside his job, he chose the University of Southern California to pursue his master’s in aerospace engineering, where he will be taking online courses beginning in August. “I believe education is the cornerstone of success in the field of engineering,” Saeed said. “I plan on earning my master’s degree to help me advance in the industry, then move onto earning a master’s in business administration (MBA) to round out my credentials.”
Home is where the heart is
He may be moving across the country, but Saeed says his close-knit family will be close at heart. “It will be hard leaving my family, but they are amazing people who have supported me my entire life. My father worked hard so I could go to college. Now, it’s my turn to return the favor.”
Imagine receiving a full four-year scholarship to Vaughn College, paid summer internships and a guaranteed job after graduation in a “futureproof” career. Sound too good to be true? It’s not. In fact, if you’re an incoming freshman who lives in Queens County, NY with a dream of pursuing a career in engineering, technology, management or aviation, your dream may be closer than you think.
For the second year, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey is partnering with Vaughn College of Aeronautics and Technology to offer a unique scholarship opportunity to five incoming freshmen for the 2020-2021 academic school year. This amazing opportunity is part of the ongoing redevelopment of LaGuardia Airport and the city’s commitment to reinvesting in the communities that play host to the airport.
Do you have what it takes to apply? Read on to learn more about the scholarship program benefits, if you qualify and how to apply.
Scholarship Program: What You’ll Receive
The scholarship covers the complete annual tuition for up to four consecutive years of full-time study and is renewable each year for up to four years, providing the student maintains a cumulative grade point average (GPA) of 3.0 or higher and full-time student status.
Scholarship recipients will receive:
A “futureproof” tuition-free education (full, four-year scholarship starting in the fall 2020 semester).
aid internships at the Port Authority airports during the summers while enrolled at Vaughn.
Full-time employment with the Port Authority upon graduation for those who qualify.
How to Qualify
Five finalists will be selected for a full-tuition scholarship based on the following criteria:
Students must reside in Queens County, NY.
Preference will be given to residents of the following zip codes: 11369 (East Elmhurst), 11370 (East Elmhurst, Astoria), and 11105 (Astoria)
Secondary preference will be given to residents of the following zip codes: 11368 (Corona, Willets Point), 11102 (Astoria) and 11103 (Astoria)
Minimum cumulative grade point average (GPA) of at least an 80
Minimum cumulative score of 1,000 on the SAT or 22 on the ACT
Applicant must submit academic accomplishments, intellectual and creative distinctions, extracurricular activities, letters of reference and original essays.
Applicants must have completed and submitted an Application for Admission to Vaughn College prior to submission of a scholarship application.
As part of the Port Authority Partners and Vaughn College Scholarship Program application, applicants must also submit two letters of recommendation, an essay and completed application form with official high school transcript and SAT or ACT scores.
Don’t miss this opportunity for a “futureproof” tuition-free education at Vaughn College. Don’t forget the deadline of March 1, 2020. For additional questions, please contact: Mr. Celso Alvarez, Associate VP of Enrollment via email at or by calling 718-429-6600, extension 117.
WANT TO KNOW MORE?
Simply complete the form below to receive information about Vaughn and get connected with an admissions counselor.