In 2020 Aala Siddiqi earned a degree in Communication and Design from Habib University in her native Pakistan — a course of study that opened her eyes to the potential for good design to change how we experience the world. She quickly found work at a design agency in Karachi but soon became somewhat disillusioned.

“I wasn’t sure best practices were always being fully implemented within the design world, and I began thinking we could be doing more,” she says. “Design as a field could sometimes seem to be quite exclusive, rather than inclusive.”

She longed to expand her horizon and potentially obtain some global experience, but those things seemed out of reach — that is, until she won a Fulbright Scholarship, a cross-cultural initiative aimed at enabling students from abroad to research and study in the United States.

With scholarship in hand, she focused on NYU's Integrated Design & Media program, reasoning that if any place could expose her to a diversity of perspectives and experiences, it would be here. She admits that she had second thoughts, however, when she was handed a breadboard and a microcontroller in one of her first classes. “I thought, ‘I’m not an electrical engineer,’” she recalls. “But I forced myself to explore, and it turned out to be life-changing. I learned to trust what I was capable of and to understand that here was a way to translate my ideas into physical reality.”

At Tandon, Siddiqi began interrogating the effects technology has on our lives and how it could be used more responsibly. “Tech is fun, so of course we use it,” she explains, “but we should be thinking about what we lose and gain in the process.”

Among the projects in which she has been involved is “Reuse, Rethink, Resilience,” which focuses on using design to create community, practice ethics, and connect to nature, and she is currently working with Director of Science and Technology Studies Danya Glabau on research related to the use of infant-tracking apps.

“Professors like her and Benedetta Piantella are so inspiring,” Siddiqi says. “It’s not just what they teach but the principles they exemplify, like openness, empathy, and kindness. I feel that I’ve learned a lot about myself in the process of coming to a new country and being on my own, and I’ve also learned, in many respects, how to live.”

Siddiqi, an enthusiastic attendee of the Islamic Center at NYU, which she credits as being like a second home to her, will return to Pakistan once her degree is completed — a condition of her Fulbright. Still, she’ll be taking a little bit of IDM, Tandon, and New York City along with her.