When Shahrin Haque graduates this year, the NYU senior and leader in the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) plans to use her Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering degree from NYUʼs Tandon School of Engineering to launch her career in the cosmetics industry. But Shahrin didn’t begin her academic journey in the chemical engineering department. Instead, she plunged headfirst into computer engineering her first year. She was certain she would work for a big tech company like Google or Facebook. But after spending a month in her Intro to Coding class, Shahrin realized that computer engineering did not spark true joy for her. One month later, she made the switch to Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering—and she”s never looked back.
What made Shahrin so confident about changing her path? It all started when she heard there was free pizza at an SWE event.
“I didn’t even know that SWE existed,” says Shahrin. “My friend invited me to one of their events, so I decided to go for the pizza. When we got there, there was no free pizza. But I stayed anyway because it was my first year and I didn’t really know many people. At the event I met about 15 to 20 girls from different backgrounds. Some were civil engineers. Others were mechanical engineers. Some were on the e-board. I ultimately stayed for the conversation. From that moment on, I made it a point not only to become a member but an active one.
“It was my sister who told me about chemical engineers and how they can work in the cosmetics field. I thought that was so cool. I have absolutely no idea how to apply makeup, but I love the science that goes into it. There are people out there who use makeup as art, so I like the idea that cosmetic scientists and formulation chemists bridge the gap between art and science,” says Shahrin. “Instead of trying to convince myself I should stick it out and keep going with computer engineering, I decided to switch majors,” she adds.
Paving a Path for Women in STEM
According to Shahrin, being a woman in a typically male-dominated field comes with a big heaping scoop of imposter syndrome. And as a woman of color, she says the doubt and hesitation multiplies tenfold.
“The way I describe it is that I’m a minority within a minority,” says Shahrin. “I’m a female in engineering but I’m also one of the few women of color in my cohort. So it inevitably makes you feel like an imposter. You question yourself. Am I good enough to be here? Am I smart enough? Why am I here? Imposter syndrome is real. I’m sure every woman, regardless if they’re in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) or not, has felt that way before.”
To help women students feel more comfortable pursuing STEM degrees, Shahrin says that NYU Tandon dean Jelena Kovačević has implemented multiple initiatives since the start of her tenure in 2018. Many of Kovačević’s initiatives have focused on celebrating the achievements of women engineers as well as teaching men how to become better allies.
“Dean Kovačević is doing her best and working hard to help women students feel more comfortable in the engineering space,” says Shahrin. “She’s really stepped up to the plate and has done a lot to strengthen our community of women. She and her cohort want to see the number of women STEM students keep climbing, so they’ve been rolling out a bunch of initiatives to give us the resources we need to feel comfortable on campus.”
Along with NYU’s Division of Student Affairs, Dean Kovačević and the Women @ Tandon committee hosted the ninth annual Women in STEM Summit in 2020. This event empowers women in STEM and sparks discussions on topics that are relevant to the women in STEM community. Shahrin attended the event as a member and leader of NYU’s Society of Women Engineers. In fact, they were recognized as the eventʼs guests of honor.
A Closer Look at the Society of Women Engineers
The Society of Women Engineers is a national organization that empowers women to excel in engineering. This year, Shahrin is the president of SWE’s NYU chapter. In this role she oversees the smorgasbord of events that her e-board hosts for members. Events typically include networking sessions with industry professionals, on-spot interviews with companies, collaborative events with other NYU engineering societies, and de-stressing events during exam time (think: cookie decorating, canvas painting, and DIY T-shirts). When COVID hit, Shahrin and her e-board quickly shifted all events and programming online. Instead of hosting companies in person, they held events virtually. And instead of meeting in person for de-stressing events, they hosted online movie nights, game nights, and crafting sessions.
Over the years, Shahrin has served in many different roles in the Society of Women Engineers, including treasurer, secretary, copresident, and now president. So what’s the biggest lesson she’s learned from her involvement? Her answer: how to prepare for life after college.“I attended so many SWE events and talks that taught me what to expect and what to prepare for as a woman in such a rigorous field,” she says. “Knowing that there are other women who majored in the same field as me to reach out to is comforting. That binds you together.”
Who Can Join the Society of Women Engineers?
According to Shahrin, anyone who identifies as a woman can join. “You don’t have to have a certain major to join this club just because the title says so,” she says. “You can come from any background. Everyone is welcome at our events.”