Vaughn College celebrates Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month with the story of a first-generation Pakistani college student, Malik Khuram ’25, who came to New York at the age of 10 and discovered his passion for aviation and engineering at a young age. Now as a junior mechanical engineering student at Vaughn, Khuram  is pursuing his dream in the industry—making his mark at Vaughn while getting hands-on work experience at Con Edison East River Generating Station located on 14th Street in Manhattan.

His Passion for Engineering Led Him to Vaughn

“I grew up in Pakistan and moved to New York with my family when I was 10 years old,” Khuram said. “I attended the Aviation Career and Technical Education High School—also known as Aviation High School—in Sunnyside, Queens. It was there that my future career path took flight.” As an institution that prepares students for careers in the aerospace industry, Aviation High School also partners with Vaughn to recruit high-achieving students who wish to pursue careers in the engineering and aviation industries. Little did Khuram know that he would be one of those fortunate students that Vaughn selects each year to receive the one full scholarship that is awarded each year. “I worked very hard throughout high school to maintain a competitive grade point average,” he explained. “Vaughn was always on my radar as a college I wanted to attend. I was shocked when the vice president of the school and my guidance counselor told me that I had been selected to receive that year’s scholarship to Vaughn!”

Khuram solidified his decision to attend Vaughn during an Open House event. “The low student-to-professor ratio and impressive curriculum really excited me. But most of all, I was grateful for the full-ride scholarship to attend such an amazing college.”

Support from CSTEP

In addition to his full scholarship, Khuram is also part of the Collegiate Science and Technology Entry Program (CSTEP), which provides him with additional funds for books, software and travel to internships. “I wouldn’t be here today if it weren’t for the financial support I receive from Vaughn,” Khuram said humbly. “They have eliminated that burden which is giving me the opportunity to focus on earning my degree and planning my future.”

Engagement Beyond Academics

NASA Rover Challenge 2022Khuram emphasized the well-rounded student experience at Vaughn which has enabled him to apply his mechanical engineering skills to real-life scenarios, actively participating in the robotics club serving as the current president of the NASA Rover Club. “Last year was an exciting time for our team. We attended the Human Exploration Rover Challenge in Huntsville, Alabama where we competed against students from around the world. It was a great all-around experience.”

Khuram said he also enjoys being a member of Vaughn’s student chapter of the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE). “Being part of a larger organization made up of individuals who share your heritage and interest in engineering is empowering,” he stated. “It’s great to know that I belong to a community that recognizes and supports my potential and impact in the industry.”

Internship and Co-Op at Con Edison

Ambition, hard work and persistence make up the foundation on which Khuram is achieving his life goals. He explained how Chaundra Daniels, director of career services at Vaughn, was instrumental in helping him land his internship at Con Edison. “She sent me an email about the internship, and then helped me apply and prepare for my interview. I was accepted as a summer intern and I knew the opportunity would be the gateway to something bigger for me.”

At the end of the summer internship, Con Edison offered Khuram a co-op position with the company. “It’s a little challenging—balancing college and work—but it’s all worth it,” he said. “I’m taking 18 credits this semester and working 18-20 hours each week. The best part is how Con Edison gives me the flexibility I need to be successful both in my studies and at my job.”

Industry Experience

Khuram said he loves working at Con Edison. “I work at the steam plant in Manhattan that controls the hot water and electricity for various parts of the city. It’s a massive plant that occupies three city blocks,” he explained. He said he assists with scheduling the work in the office and also shadows the engineers when they work out in the field. “I have the opportunity to interact with so many people in different areas. In my co-op position, I’m able to ask questions, experience different roles and figure out what I like best. I learn something new every day and love the relationship I’ve built with the management team.”

When asked why he believes engineering is one of today’s most in-demand fields, Khuram replied: “Technology is everywhere and changing constantly. We need engineers for every sector. They look for ways to make things work better, which in turn, will make our lives better.”

Advice to Students

For anyone interested in becoming an engineer, Khuram said it’s important to remember that you have options: “Not every engineer works in the field. Some work at a desk. The key elements come down to three things: problem solving, persistence and patience.”

At 23 years old, Khuram looks to the future with hope and positivity. “I would love to be offered a permanent position with Con Edison after graduation. I love the work I do there. My plan is to apply for an associate engineer position where I could make up to $75K to start. The rest is up to fate.”

If you share Khuram’s passion for engineering, explore the possibilities with a futureproof degree in engineering, technology, management, or aviation. Apply to Vaughn College today!


In episode 13 of Futureproof Focus, Dr. Sharon B. DeVivo, president and chief executive officer of Vaughn College and host of the podcast, had an engaging conversation with Okera Bullen ’22 about his career as a supply chain manager at Nexans, a global cable products and solutions company. Read on to learn how a degree in mechanical engineering can lead to a job in supply chain management (SCM) which covers a variety of industries along with a multitude of opportunities to advance and grow.

Finding solutions

For as long as he could remember, Okera Bullen always enjoyed solving problems with innovative, low-risk solutions. It therefore came as no surprise that he decided to pursue a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering at Vaughn. Or was it? “I always visualized myself working in the aviation field,” Bullen explained, “but it was my passion for problem solving that sparked my interest in mechanical engineering.” Okera mentions that thinking things through and finding the best possible solution is how his brain works. He said he chose Vaughn College for its small campus environment, outstanding faculty and close proximity to home.

Making a difference in the world

“Early in my professional life, I worked in the international public sector,” Bullen explained. “I wanted to make a difference in doing things for the planet.” After graduating from Vaughn, Bullen started out with the goal to work in the aviation and aerospace industry, but his path soon changed. “I had an interesting career segue,” he said. “I ‘fell into’ the supply chain and procurement field. After working in the international public sector for many years, I was looking for a growth opportunity where I could make an impact on people’s lives. The supply chain management position at Nexans—although challenging—drew a direct line to the work I was already doing. It was an easy decision for me.”

His role at Nexans

Bullen describes Nexans as a ‘pure electrification player’ in the offshore wind industry. This company has more than 100 years in the cable manufacturing sector. For the past several decades, Nexans has been a leading manufacturer and engineering, procurement, construction and installation (EPCI) contractor in the offshore wind space and electrification space, where it has produced export cables that connect wind farms to land. He went on to say that he works with interconnectors—which are huge, high-voltage cables which transmit electricity for hundreds of miles. There are in fact a few wind farms in the Northeast—right off the coast of Long Island— under development. Nexans has been contracted to engineer, design, manufacture, transport and install export cables to connect those wind farms into different parts of Brooklyn and Long Island.

With a passion for making a difference in the world, Bullen said working at Nexans as a tender and project purchasing manager is in line with his lifelong dedication of helping the planet. “I want to have some impact—in some small way—to move the needle toward renewal resources and sustainable energy to leave the planet in a better place than I found it,” he said humbly.

Vaughn’s new supply chain management certificate

Dr. ­DeVivo was excited to share information about Vaughn’s new supply chain management certificate program, which builds upon existing bachelor’s degrees in airport management and airline management, thus providing a seamless pathway for students who wish to specialize in supply chain management.

When asked about the choice of supply chain management as a great career direction for today’s students, Bullen replied: “Supply chain professionals do much more than support the safe travel and delivery of goods. It’s all about setting the strategies for how the goods are flowing across the chain, to prevent breaks or issues.” As for Bullen, his roles in sourcing, procurement, logistics and inventory management are helping to improve sustainability and energy efficiency. “The job is challenging, but we are all making a difference. Supply chain professionals come with a skillset that is transferable to various sectors. The problem-solving skills you learn in one job can easily transfer to other industries. We work in the background so things can move seamlessly.”

Advice to students

When asked by Dr. DeVivo for advice to students who are considering careers in supply chain management, Bullen was pleased to say: “Vaughn offers great resources for students. It’s not all about the coursework. The professors are working professionals with real-world experience. They are an invaluable resource that you can learn from. My professors were always there to guide me.”

Are you interested in a career in supply chain management? Learn more about Vaughn’s supply chain management certificate program. Apply today!

In episode 8 of Vaughn’s podcast, Futureproof Focus, Dr. Sharon B. DeVivo, president of Vaughn College and host of the podcast, sat down with Vaughn graduate Philip Bredu ’22 for an inspiring conversation about the value of internships, and how his passion for engineering and the sciences helped him land his current position as a test engineer at Georgia Power.

Coming to America

Born and raised in Ghana, Bredu and his brother moved to the United States to join their father, who was already living in New York at the time. At the age of 18, Bredu enrolled at Bronx Community College, where he started taking courses in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. “Throughout my high school years in Ghana, I always gravitated toward math and physics,” he said. “It never scared me away. I knew it was something I could do.” Then Bredu received an email about a scholarship offered at Vaughn College. “I was intrigued about what I read and wanted to learn more about the College and its engineering programs.”

Excited about his future, Bredu knew that Vaughn would be the perfect place for him to pursue his dream. “I transferred to Vaughn and enrolled in the mechanical engineering program,” he said. “Being at Vaughn offered me the hands-on learning experience I wanted. From financial aid and career support to expert professors and incredible industry connections, landing my internship at Georgia Power was easy.”

The “power” of internships

Philip Bredu'22, Vaughn College mechanical engineering graduateBredu is the perfect example of how an internship can literally “power” your ability to land the job of your dreams. Bredu attended a career fair at Vaughn where he learned that he could use his engineering degree to work at a power company. Later, Vaughn sponsored a trip for him to attend the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) conference where he met with representatives from Georgia Power and received an internship opportunity. “I was invited to the hospitality suite at the conference where I met the supervisor at Georgia Power. After speaking with him for a short time, I was offered the internship!” Bredu said the experience was life changing as it helped him realize that working in the power industry was something he could do.

During the internship, Bredu valued the ability to work both in the office and in the field. “The hybrid schedule enabled me to learn so many different aspects of energy management. This is a dynamic career that will hold my interest for the long term.”

After the internship, Bredu was offered a permanent position at Georgia Power. In 2022, he graduated from Vaughn with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering and was ready to start his career as a test engineer. “Moving to Georgia by myself and leaving my family was a challenging time for me,” he said. “It was a total lifestyle change from living in New York, but I’m adjusting. I love my job.”

A day in the life of a test engineer

“You never stop learning. This job teaches you the importance of being a good listener and asking questions.” When Dr. DeVivo asked him if he would recommend working in the power industry, Bredu responded with an enthusiastic, “yes!” “There’s always something new and exciting to learn about,” he explained. “Today’s customers are interested in solar, wind and sustainable energy. Working as a test engineer is a dream come true for me. It’s a diversified job that requires different skills. If you’re looking for a hands-on, intense and exciting career, becoming a test engineer is the job for you. You’ll never be bored.”

Engineering is an excellent field to get into because it offers a wide range of career opportunities across a variety of industries with stability and endless growth potential. What’s more is that new and emerging technologies are creating new roles in engineering every day. So check out Vaughn’s engineering and technology program and set your sights on an incredible future.

Check out all Vaughn’s podcast episodes.

In the first episode of our new podcast, Futureproof Focus, Dr. Sharon B. DeVivo, president of Vaughn College and host of the podcast, sat down with Vaughn graduate Kirei Watson ’18 for an enlightening conversation about breaking barriers and following your dreams. Sit back to hear how Kirei is forging new pathways as she takes us on her journey that led to her current job at Collins Aerospace.

A passion for aviation

From an early age, Kirei was obsessed with earth science and dreamed of becoming a pilot. While in high school, she attended an open house at Vaughn. This open house visit opened her eyes to a futureproof career in aviation. As a first step to “getting her feet wet in the field,” Kirei enrolled at Vaughn, where she earned an Associate of Applied Science in Aeronautical Engineering Technology. Her drive to become a pilot shifted toward engineering, and on the advice of one of her professors, Kirei switched gears and went on to earn her bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering. Through it all, however, she remained focused on pursuing a career in aviation.

Embracing diversity

As a Black woman in a male-dominated field, Kirei knew she would have to work to break barriers in order to get to where she wanted to be. She credits Vaughn for being an institution of diversity and said she never felt like she didn’t belong. “My passion and obsession of being analytical drove me to overcome adversity,” Kirei said. And like Dr. DeVivo says, “Diversity is Vaughn’s superpower!”

Attending professional conferences such as the National Society of Black Engineers and the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers was a pivotal point in her college career. “It was overwhelming at first to see so many attendees from across the country, but then I realized there’s other people here just like me. It was very insightful.”

Landing the job at Collins Aerospace

Kirei discovered Collins Aerospace while attending the Society for Hispanic Professional Engineers national convention. She explained how the “everything but the engine” approach was what excited her the most about working at Collins. Currently, Kirei has the position of engineering and technology rotational program engineer. “Working at Collins was a no-brainer!” she said. As part of the rotational program, she works with a mentor who guides her in which jobs to take. “I pick the jobs I want to work on which is great,” she explained.

She is currently working in San Diego, California, and said she loves how the rotational program allows her to gain knowledge and experience in many aspects of engineering—especially learning about the consumer side of the industry. From a diversity point of view, she said Collins gave her a sense of belonging—despite being a minority. Of the company’s 15,000 employees, only 322 are Black women, Kirei noted. “It’s rewarding to know that you’re breaking barriers,” she said. “It’s all about your passion, being fully invested in what you believe in and knowing that what you bring to the table matters.”

How Vaughn prepared her for success

Kirei said she wouldn’t be where she is today without the support and guidance of her Vaughn professors and mentors. She describes one of her standout moments at Vaughn being when a professor explained how it’s important to be “…intentional with what you’re studying.” It’s all about knowing how to execute the step-by-step process.

Her advice to aspiring engineers

Kirei believes that being honest with yourself is one of the most important ways to get to where you want to be. She mentions the “imposter syndrome” as something she experienced when she first took the job. “It’s intimidating at first when no one looks like you.” The key to staying, she said, is to remember that you earned your place.

Her advice to any Black woman who has a dream or passion: “Just do it! Let the passion drive you.”

You can watch the podcast in its entirety here.

Read more about how Kirei landed her dream job here.


From humble beginnings as he learned the English language to working as a SpaceX engineer, Joan Cruz ’20, a Vaughn College mechanical engineering graduate chronicles how his career path found him in a way he least expected.

Coming to America

At the age of seven, Cruz moved to the United States with his mother from the Dominican Republic to join his father and sister who had settled in Maryland. He attended elementary school with the added challenge of learning the English language. Cruz said within six months he broke the language barrier and began making friends. Shortly after, they moved to Queens, New York where Cruz went on to attend Forest Hills High School. “My parents worked hard to give me and my sister a good life in the United States,” Cruz said. “I am grateful to my parents for their efforts to give us the opportunity for a better life.”

Finding his way

Throughout high school, Cruz said he was an average student who did not have a clear vision of what career path he wanted to pursue. “My father encouraged me to become an engineer. He saw something in me that I didn’t—a vision and problem-solving skills that would be best applied in an engineering career. Sadly, I didn’t have the confidence then,” he admitted. “I didn’t think I was engineering material.” Little did Cruz realize that within a few short years he would be working as an engineer for Space Exploration Technologies Corp—which is more popularly known as ‘SpaceX.’

What Cruz did know, however, was that he wanted to live an independent life. At the age of 18, shortly after graduating from Forest Hills High School, he joined the United States Army. “I needed direction and discipline in my life,” he said humbly. “I needed to grow up.” He explained how boot camp was the hardest thing he ever experienced in his life but was well worth it. During his three years of service, Cruz worked as a diesel mechanic in a combat engineering unit. “I loved working as a mechanic,” he said. “I was thrust into this field and discovered talents I didn’t know I had.” Unfortunately, Cruz suffered an injury that cut his military service short. “I was disappointed my time in the army was coming to an end, but I was excited to begin a new chapter in my life. Working as an engineer seemed like it could become a reality. It was then that I discovered Vaughn College.”

Discovering Vaughn

During his last six months of military service, Cruz began researching colleges that had a focus on engineering and aerospace. “As far-fetched as becoming an engineer was for me then, becoming a pilot was even more of a dream—but one I took seriously,” he said. He applied to several colleges and decided on Vaughn to pursue his engineering and aerospace career. In the fall of 2017, Cruz began the mechanical engineering degree program at Vaughn. He explained how the program, although challenging, gave him the skills to land his job as an associate engineer at SpaceX. Cruz pointed out two of his favorite things about Vaughn: The one-on-one relationship students have with their professors and the small class sizes. “The opportunity to ask questions without judgment and faculty support were driving factors in my success,” he said. “I admit I needed some motivation to keep the momentum going. College is a test of your skills, and Vaughn has the perfect formula to cultivate a student’s success.”

During his time at Vaughn, Cruz was a proud member of the Vaughn student chapter of Engineers Without Borders. He, along with three other Vaughn engineering and technology students, were part of the team led by Miguel Bustamante, PhD, assistant professor of engineering and technology. Together, the group visited the African country of Rwanda to test water supplies in the village of Kibingo. (Read more about their incredible efforts here.)

Cruz completed his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering in less than four years—but not without earning his pilot’s license, too! “The military ‘can do’ mentality gave me the discipline and determination to work through the summer and both my winter and spring breaks to earn my pilot’s license by my senior year,” he said triumphantly.

‘Launching’ his career

Cruz was determined to land a job before graduating from Vaughn. He sent out several job applications, including one to SpaceX for the position of associate engineer. To his surprise, he received an invitation to interview with SpaceX. Over the course of two months, the excitement and anticipation grew as Cruz completed four interviews in the hope of landing the job at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida. In November 2020, Cruz was offered the position of a lifetime, and he moved to Cape Canaveral right after graduating from Vaughn. “I was over the moon to hear the news that I would be working at my dream job,” he said excitedly. Cruz’s responsibilities included working on all hardware for launch pads, tooling and rocket recovery. “I’m convinced that my combined experience and knowledge that I gained at Vaughn, earning my pilot’s license, the Rwanda project with Engineers Without Borders and my veteran work experience were the winning combination to landing my current job.”

Living the dream

After only three months, Cruz was promoted to the position of manufacturing engineer at SpaceX, where his responsibilities include delivering a fully scalable working piece of hardware for a successful SpaceX rocket launch manifest, among other tasks. “The magnitude of responsibility is immense,” he explained. “We all work long hours, but we love every minute of it.” Cruz points out how SpaceX is a positive environment where everyone takes ownership of their work and has an integral part of the process. “Anything worth doing is worth overdoing,” he said emphatically. “If you told me years ago that I would be working as an engineer—building launch hardware components for rocket ships—I would have told you you’re crazy,” laughed Cruz. “I believe everything happens for a reason. Joining the army, and then finding Vaughn were the steppingstones I needed to launch a career I could only dream of.”

Do you have a passion for engineering or aviation? A degree from Vaughn College can be your launching pad for a futureproof career. Apply today!

What do the Empire State Building, the Golden Gate Bridge and the Panama Canal all have in common? If you said they are among some of the top engineering wonders of the modern world, you are correct—so get ready to see one of the latest to hit the stage!

Check out the engineering wonder of The Guitar Hotel at Seminole Hard Rock and Casino in Hollywood, Florida—the world’s first guitar-shaped hotel and the most unique structure to climb the stairway to the sky.

Opening act

In October 2019, the 35-story, 638-room Guitar Hotel made its solo debut, soaring 450 feet into the skies of South Florida. This architectural wonder took three years to create and is part of the $1.5 billion expansion of the flagship casino resort of Hard Rock International, owned by the Seminole Tribe of Florida. The hotel is designed to resemble back-to-back guitars. The neck of the guitar extends 75 feet above the roof with light cannons blazing through. Illuminated strings, guitar faces, and floor-to-ceiling glass panels complete the look of a jam that will have you yelling: “Encore!”

So, why the guitar shape? A hotel operations executive explained how the guitar has worldwide recognition as a symbol of music. Additionally, it is the iconic symbol of the Hard Rock. Designed in collaboration with Klai Juba Wald Architects of Las Vegas, De Simone Consulting Engineers worked in strict coordination through all design specialties to complete this challenging, exciting and rewarding project.

Hard Rock Hotel Guitar at night

How did they build that?

The architectural and engineering genius behind this amazing structure involved skills and expertise across several engineering and construction platforms. Tight controls and flexible designs were key components throughout the project. Experts in the areas of structural, mechanical, electrical and civil engineering—along with contractors in the construction and related industries—combined forces to meet the demands of this challenging project with its “sexy curves.” Here is a snapshot of how they built this one-of-a-kind guitar-shaped hotel:

  • Detailed models of the guitar tower—The models of the guitar tower and other on-site projects were critical decision-making tools to address logistical challenges and ensure precision.
  • Preparing the site for construction—A multiacre retention pond was filled in, along with the excavation of another pond, to create balance of onsite water retention. Crews used vibro compaction to prepare the site for construction and this allowed them to begin vertical construction.
  • Laying the foundation—Concrete companies partnered to install 36,000 cubic yards of concrete that were used on the guitar tower. Meticulous detail was required for in-slab coordination to ensure that embeds for the curtain wall system, slab edges, plumbing sleeves, mechanical system openings and other openings were precise.
  • Structural design—Nine inch thick, post-tensioned slabs were used on levels four through-28 to allow for thinner floor plates. This system allowed the crew to install the curtain wall and the guitar shaped design. This was a critical step to ensure the curtain wall embeds were precisely located on the slab edge.
  • Addressing the curves—Several columns needed to be sloped by as much as 40 degrees, since each floor narrows and widens in the guitar shape. Additional thrust reinforcement was designed into the slabs to help hold back horizontal forces from sloping columns.
  • Height restrictions—The hotel property lies within the flight path of Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood International Airport. Design teams worked cautiously to save inches anywhere they could to maximize space for the hotel rooms. More inches could potentially turn into additional floors, thus jeopardizing the height restriction of the structure.
  • Cost consideration—As you can imagine, a project of this magnitude required laser-focused cost management. The team used 3D, 4D (time) and 5D (schedule) to communicate their ideas about the project.

How an engineering degree from Vaughn can be music to your ears

The Guitar Hotel at Seminole Hard Rock and Casino is one of today’s coolest and innovative examples of engineering at its finest. As you can see, the field of engineering and technology continues to play a critical role in defining modern day life and society. As technology and infrastructure continue to develop at a rapid rate, the demand for well-trained electrical, mechanical, and mechatronic engineers is greater than ever. Vaughn’s industry-focused degrees and add-on certifications will prepare you for an ever-changing and dynamic career in your chosen field.

Are you seeking a futureproof career in the engineering and technology field? Discover the possibilities. Apply today!