A Top Job Awaits This Outstanding Engineer

Yasmine Aly received the Outstanding Graduate Student Award from Basil Baltzis, interim dean of NCE.

Over her years at NJIT, Yasmine Aly has accumulated a host of honors. And when she graduates in May with a Ph.D. in chemical engineering, a great job awaits her in the nation’s capital.

She'll work as a post-doctoral fellow for the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA), where she'll conduct research aimed to prevent, reduce and eliminate threats from weapons of mass destruction. It's a major research undertaking that calls for sophisticated engineering and deep thinking and Yasmine is just the woman for the job. 

To cite just a few of her achievements at NJIT: She’s published 10 peer-reviewed journal articles and presented her research at 20 national and regional conferences. Her research, focused on the development of new reactive materials and advanced fuels, has also earned her major graduate research awards.  She won the Overall Outstanding Graduate Student Research Award at the 2013 Graduate Student Association Research Day, the 2013 Outstanding Graduate Class Highlander Award, and first-place at the 2010 Dana Knox Student Research Showcase. At the 2013 American Institute of Chemical Engineers annual meeting, she won the Best Student Presenter Award for the Particle Technology Forum’s Energetics Session.

And this year she received two of the university’s highest honors: the 2014 Presidential Leadership Award for a graduate student (at the Highlander Student Achievement Awards) and the Outstanding Graduate Student Award from the Newark College of Engineering (NCE).

In this interview, Yasmine talks about her education at NJIT and her plans for the future.

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Were you an undergraduate here?

Yes, I earned my bachelor’s in chemical engineering in 2008, but decided to continue my graduate studies at NJIT, where I’m now a Ph.D. candidate majoring in chemical engineering. I work under the advisement of Professor Edward L. Dreizin, and my thesis is focused on the synthesis and characterization of metal-based reactive powders.  My research has applications in propellants, oxygen generators, hydrogen storage and use in airbags.

Can you talk about your new job?

I recently accepted an offer from the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) Post-Doctoral Fellowship Program. DTRA is an agency within the US Department of Defense. As a fellow for DTRA, I will be working within the Research and Development Enterprise, Basic and Applied Sciences Directorate. This Directorate sponsors universities and government labs to perform research that addresses challenges in preventing, reducing, eliminating and mitigating threats from weapons of mass destruction (WMD). Most of my doctoral research work at NJIT has been sponsored by DTRA. I will be relocating to just outside of Washington, D.C. this summer, when I begin my work.

What motivated you to study engineering?

My guidance counselor in high school was someone I looked up to greatly and she was an engineer. She made me want to pursue engineering as a major in college. Of course, there are general obstacles that women face every day when they are in male-driven fields.  However, I've never been in the position that I felt disfavored because of my gender. 

What do you like most about chemical engineering?

I love the versatility that chemical engineering offers compared to other engineering disciplines and that's what pulled me into it after high school and why I chose to continue in it for graduate school.

Do you think more women should study engineering?

I am happy to be able to excel and further the fields of engineering and science as a woman.  Not enough women embrace these fields but I hope to be able to serve as an example to younger girls who are deciding on what paths they'd like to pursue in college. This is why I’ve taken active leadership positions within the Society of Women Engineers (SWE).  My work with SWE allows me to reach out to female undergraduate and graduate students. As a part of SWE’s K-12 outreach events, I am also able to connect with pre-college students. This is great because I am able to  encourage young females to embrace science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) majors and not shy away from fields that are male-dominated.

Why did you come to NJIT?

I chose to come to NJIT after high school because I wanted to attend a good engineering school and NJIT was close to home, so its location and reputation are what drew me.  Those reasons also hold for why I chose to stay at NJIT for graduate school.

How were able to excel here?

I think any success I've ever enjoyed was due to hard work, perseverance, sticking to my values and always being true to myself.  I think it has little to do with intelligence.  Creativity and social skills also play a part, but mostly, I have great mentors all around that encourage and support me including my family, friends, mentors and my research advisor.  I've always been a firm believer that hard work will get you places. 

What have been the highlights of your education?

There have been several highlights during my time at NJIT since I've been here during my undergraduate years. I joined the Ronald E. McNair Post-baccalaureate Achievement Program, a program that allowed me to conduct research as an undergraduate, in my junior year. Its director, Professor Angelo Perna, has remained a great mentor to me throughout the years.  As an alumna of the McNair Program, I have remained active with the program throughout my time as a graduate student, helping lead workshops during their summer research programs. The program introduced me to research and enabled whatever later successes I’ve had as a researcher.

Also, being a Ph.D. candidate and my involvement with SWE has allowed me to enjoy many awards, recognitions, and achievements beyond what I could have ever imagined. These experiences have allowed me the opportunity to work with several people and mentor many students.  I've won several awards, both locally at NJIT and also at the many national conferences I've attended.

What did you learn about research at NJIT?

Conducting research on the graduate level has given me a new appreciation for research.  I highly recommend a research experience to everyone.  I cannot explain the joy I get from experimenting in the lab, actually getting very hands-on and seeing the fruits of my labor.  I enjoy it when all my experiments come together and contribute to a much bigger picture. I love that I can contribute to the science community.  As a graduate student, I have participated in projects that have collectively been published in 10 peer-reviewed journal articles.

What was your favorite research project?

My favorite research project came a few years into my graduate education.  It involved preparing metal-based materials that are mostly used as fuel additives in propellants but also find uses as oxygen generators and additives in pyrotechnic formulations.

Did NJIT prepare you for your next undertaking?

Definitely! I must say that I've really grown and matured as a graduate student.  I've learned valuable lessons about myself and my abilities.  I've received great training from my research advisor and colleagues and I really do feel prepared for my next undertaking. NJIT has helped me grow intellectually and hone my problem-solving skills -- skills that will be useful in any career.

What will you miss about NJIT?

My fondest memories at NJIT will definitely be of my earliest years as a graduate student.  It was during these years that I met and formed relationships with the people that I am quite fond of, people that I've maintained relationships with until now.  I've come to know many great people at NJIT and I'll mostly miss the time I've spent with all of them. I’ll also miss working with SWE on campus and the wonderful ladies who I’ve worked with and come into contact with for the past three years.  SWE has been a great support system for me and helped shape my social and leadership skills.

By Robert Florida