Bioengineering major Mariano.

Before applying to college, Mariano Alberto Utrera Maldonado, a senior at NYU Abu Dhabi, knew he wanted to apply his strong science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) skills to make the world a better place. So he decided to become a bioengineer to help solve pressing environmental issues. He realized NYU Abu Dhabi would be the perfect place to help him achieve that goal because of the flexible—and rigorous—nature of its curriculum.

A Flexible Curriculum Opens Doors

When Mariano first came to campus, there was no bioengineering program. Instead, he enrolled as a General Engineering major. General engineering gives NYU Abu Dhabi students “flexibility, by letting us choose more engineering electives than any other engineering program,” says Mariano. “I looked through the bulletin and saw that many of those electives had topics in bioengineering and environmental engineering,” foci near to his heart.

In order to help organize himself and ensure he met all his requirements and personal goals, Mariano worked closely with his faculty mentor. What’s more, he created a spreadsheet to track all of the courses he needed and wanted to take. His self-motivation, combined with the flexibility of General Engineering, meant that Mariano was able to craft an education and major all his own.

A New Major and a Continuing Journey

Then, in 2020, partly because of the interest of students like Mariano, NYU Abu Dhabi introduced its own Bioengineering major. Mariano will be one of the first students to graduate from NYU Abu Dhabi with this new degree. After its official introduction, Mariano says, “it became easier to choose my courses. There was a more structured pathway for me to follow.”

Now Mariano can use his engineering electives to gain environmental engineering experience. What’s more, he is minoring in Environmental Studies. In fact, he says History and the Environment: The Middle East is one of the most transformative courses he’s taken at NYU Abu Dhabi. The course “made me think about critical environmental issues, debates, potential solutions, and my role as an engineer in all of these more than any other,” he says. In addition to lectures and readings, the course involved debates for students to work out and defend their positions on key environmental issues.

A Supportive and Diverse Environment

Mariano cites the immense support NYU Abu Dhabi gives students as a key factor in deciding to enroll. Furthermore, he asserts it was the right call. “The NYU Abu Dhabi campus gives its students incredibly generous support,” he says. “This includes counseling, accommodations, financial aid, medical insurance, and the protections we received during the COVID-19 pandemic.” The Moses Center for Student Accessibility ensures that all students receive equal opportunities and participation, while the NYU Abu Dhabi health and wellness centers provide holistic student-centered health-care and wellness services.

A diverse and international community of students was also important to Mariano, who is from Guatemala. The more than 1,800 undergraduate students who attend NYU Abu Dhabi represent over 110 countries and know more than 115 languages. A robust STEM program was most important for Mariano too. But in addition to being the number one school for high-quality science research publications in the UAE, NYU Abu Dhabi also affords access to a wide world of the arts and humanities. Since the school’s opening in 2010, more than 250 creative performances have been staged.

Where will all his hard work take him? Right now, Mariano gravitates to the field of water safety and treatment. But he knows from experience that flexibility is the key to success. So he’s keeping an open mind about what the future holds. After all, he says, “I might discover other interests in the field of environmental bioengineering through my coursework.”