GLASS participants shine

NYU Tandon’s Global Leaders and Scholars in STEM (GLASS) initiative is creating engineers ready to contribute to a brighter world

2 women holding newborn infants

GLASS scholar Chantelle Kariuki (right) volunteered at a public hospital in Tanzania

Through a rigorous process, the Global Leaders and Scholars in STEM (GLASS) program identifies high-achieving undergraduates with enormous potential and provides them with a wide variety of resources that allow them to soar — academically, personally, professionally — and even in some totally unexpected ways, as Chantelle Kariuki, a Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering major who was invited into the program as a member of the 2021 program, can attest.

Once in a Lifetime

GLASS scholars travel internationally in order to build global competency — one of the “5 GLASS Windows,” as the pillars of the program are known. This year, that involved a trip to the East African nation of Tanzania, and Kariuki jumped at the chance to volunteer at a public hospital there for two weeks. (Another GLASS Window is commitment to service.) “I hope to become a surgeon one day, and I’m studying engineering because that’s a useful background to have,” she says. “I expected to watch the Tanzanian medical professionals at work and to make myself useful in whatever small way I could. What I didn’t expect was to be the only other person in the room just when a laboring mother gave birth and to help her deliver the baby.”

Joanna Ibrahim, also a member of the 2021 cohort, had a different (and presumably much less heart-pounding) sort of adventure on a GLASS trip — this one to Prague, when she was a junior. Chandrika Tandon, Chair of the NYU Tandon Board and the NYU President’s Global Council and the benefactor for whom the School of Engineering is named, happened to be in that world capital at the same time, and Ibrahim, who originally hails from a small town in Egypt, was tapped to join her for dinner. “When would I ever, in a million years, have an opportunity like that without GLASS,” Ibrahim — a Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering major focused on global access to clean water — asks. (Each scholar is required to choose a U.N. Sustainable Development Goal or National Academy of Engineering Grand Challenge; clean water and sanitation is U.N. goal #6.) 

GLASS Scholar Joanna in weftec 2023
Joanna Ibrahim (left) at water quality event

Travel is just the beginning

For other GLASS participants, the travel, while enriching, is not the major draw. Joy Sure, the current president of student chapters of the National Society of Black Engineers and the American Institute of Chemical Engineers, points out that she was born in Kenya and lived much of her life in South Africa before coming to Brooklyn and is thus already fairly comfortable in international settings; that definitely holds true, as well, for Vu Nam Phan, a mechanical engineering major who has already lived in more than half-a-dozen countries, including Vietnam, Sudan, Indonesia, China, Malaysia, and the United Arab Emirates.

Glass Candidate Vu Nam in the NYU Model United Conference
Vu Nam Phan (center) at NYU model UN

They mention myriad other benefits, however: Professional development is an important GLASS Window, and scholars are provided with generous financial support to attend engineering conferences and networking events, and Phan recently attended events in Atlanta and Morocco. “I might have managed to get to Georgia on my own, but Morocco would probably have been an impossibility,” he says. “It’s hard to describe how grateful I am for the freedom to do something that expanded my professional horizons so much without financial constraints.” Ibrahim has become a frequent event attendee, as well, and has been to conferences held by the Water Environment Federation, the Society of Women Engineers, and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, where she presented her own research on metal organic frameworks, a class of materials with possible applications in water management.

student working in a lab
Joy Sure participating in the Undergraduate Summer Research Program

Sure is enthusiastic about the opportunities she has received to practice public speaking. With minors in mathematics and finance, she joined BlackGen Capital at Stern during her junior year — a step originally outside her comfort zone — and developed stock pitches that competed against other top universities, with the most recent one winning a competition hosted at Jefferies. 

Kariuki credits GLASS for helping her secure a post in the Flinker Lab at NYU Langone, where she helps study speech perception in patients with seizure disorders; Adeen Flinker, the neurologist who directs the lab, explained initially that he did not accept undergraduate researchers, but changed his mind once Kariuki convinced him to review her CV. 

The total experience 

While the GLASS program aims specifically to push participants out of their comfort zones and expand their horizons, just being at NYU Tandon, the students say, has been transformative. Phan, who returned to his native Vietnam one semester for an internship at energy giant Baker Hughes, mentions the school’s Vertically Integrated Projects (VIP) program; he serves as mechanical engineering lead for the RoboSub team, which is designing and building an Autonomous Underwater Vehicle. Sure explains that a highlight of her college experience has been working with Institute Associate Professor Andrea Silverman in her eponymous lab, which is dedicated to water quality, wastewater treatment, the detection and control of waterborne pathogens, and the design of natural wastewater treatment systems.

Venturing into internships

Many of the GLASS scholars are now also engaged in rewarding internships, thanks to a partnership with the Tandon Future Labs network and its A/X Venture Studio.

“We’re building world-class start-ups here, and we need world-class interns,” Vadim Gordin, who directs the Venture Studio, says. “That’s an apt description of the GLASS scholars, who have not only academic ability but vision, drive, and a commitment to using technology in socially beneficial ways.”

Ibrahim, for example, has found a niche with Olokun Minerals, founded by Lacey Reddix and Pilanda Watkins-Curry, which extracts valuable metals and minerals from wastewater streams and upcycles them, while Sure is now leveraging her love of finance and math with Washington Square Angels, led by Zac Geinzer and Mike Montero, a collective of NYU alumni  who invest in and support promising startups at NYU. Kariuki has already made a mark on IF Magic, led by  creators of a platform that allows users to design, prototype, experiment with, and build smart, connected hardware. She suggested that the founders branch into applications for the visually impaired — a move they had not previously considered but are now implementing. 

What comes next

Phan points out that attending a school like NYU allows graduates to apply for a High Potential Individual (HPI) visa — a path that would allow him to add the U.K. to his list of places he has called home, and all the GLASS scholars express interest in continuing to work on the U.N. Development Goals they have found meaningful and interesting.

And, of course, for those who aren’t graduating, more travel is on the horizon. “We’re planning a trip to Indonesia in partnership with one of our Global Engineering Education Exchange (Global E3) partners, Institut Teknologi Bandung, during the J-Term,” Sara-Lee Ramsawak, the Senior Director of Undergraduate Academics, Programs, & Global Engagement,” says, “and everyone is looking forward to that.”