Computer science sophomore Samiyah Kabir knew she wanted to reach for the stars since she was young, with dreams of working for NASA. She continues to work hard toward her goals and was recently awarded $10,000 from the Minority Women in STEM Financial Need Scholarship on bold.org.
Kabir said that her academic success could be traced back to sacrifices from her parents as well as their devotion to education. Kabir said that she first got into STEM through an internship at her charter school and quickly found her way to UTD’s CS program. The recent scholarship win was funded by Donald Huschle, a retiree, whose aim is to advance women’s rights through education. He believes minority women face more barriers.
“In so many different areas of the world, not only geographically but socially and financially … I just think that women are put down,” Huschle said. “They’re pretty much excluded from history.”
In her essay, Kabir said her future goal was to work at NASA and pursue graduate studies in computer science. She said she settled on computer science over a medicine-related discipline due to its versatility.
“Computer science is so broad…I know people who have studied biology and then did a data science master’s and now they are scientific programmers for hospitals,” Kabir said.
Kabir pursued an internship offered by her old charter school — Harmony’s Alumni Summer Engineering and Research internship — to broaden her skill set. The internship gave her the opportunity to strengthen her computer engineering skills with Tinkercad and Lulzbot, both 3D printing tools.
“At the end of the internship … I made a little carriage for Cinderella … I 3D printed the pumpkin,” Kabir said. “I was able to attach the motors to the wheel … and I was able to code the Microbit kit to make the motors turn.”
Yusuf Dogan, an advisor for the internship, said that Kabir’s focus and willingness to be a team player stood out and made her easy to work with.
“She was able to incorporate 3D design and modeling, laser cutting, 2D design and electronics … in a couple of days,” Dogan said.
Kabir said her parents made sacrifices for her to succeed; her father did not go to college and from a young age worked in factories to gain income for his family. Upon arriving in America, her mother had the opportunity to transfer her political science degree into an American one.
“She had courses lined up at a local community college. But then she had me, and she wanted to give me the best childhood that she could, so she gave it up to raise me,” Kabir said.
Her parents pushed her to focus on her dreams and heavily invested in her education. Kabir said her dad reminded her that no expense was too much when it comes to education. In return, Kabir applied for numerous scholarships to alleviate their financial stress.
“My dad works so hard every day … He comes home very late and gets up very early,” Kabir said. “I dream of the day where I’m like, you don’t have to pay any more bills.”
Kabir’s family is from Bangladesh; she said in her culture, there is often an expectation for women to take on the sole responsibility of homemaker, which can make career aspirations difficult.
“In the culture that I am from, girls are very pushed to get a male counterpart to lean on and start their lives with a man first and then do everything else,” Kabir said.
However, her parents have always encouraged her to focus on her dreams first.
“My parents are very adamant of me graduating, getting my own stance and then looking for a guy,” Kabir said.
Kabir said that her identity as a Muslim woman is especially salient in a male-dominated field. While her experiences in classes dominated by men is mostly cooperative, and the majority are “pretty nice,” she said she also felt there were times groupmates treated her differently.
“There was one or two instances where students … huddled over their computer and just did all the work,” Kabir said. “They wouldn’t scrap my code but leave it off to the side and just keep coding on their own … And then at the end, we have to write down what we did collaboratively, and the dude would be like, ‘Oh, I can just put your name for this,’ when he did it himself.”
This is the first year of the scholarship’s opening, but Huschle has confirmed the scholarship will be renewed annually. The application deadline is June 15.
Kabir’s advice to students applying for scholarships is to aim for one you feel passionate or excited about.
“Look for scholarships that have good prompts … Find something that you could see yourself easily, getting an outline and then writing more into that,” Kabir said.
Engineering and computer science are project-based, so a student must have perseverance to see a plan through even if the prototype fails. Kabir kept this mindset and stayed focused on her essay even if the first drafts weren’t good.
“Everyone gets to the point where … their blood, sweat and tears goes into a project, and it still fails.” Kabir said. “Don’t let that discourage you, take that as a learning experience and keep soldiering on. There is light at the end of the very dark tunnel.”