Leadership skills are Tandon Made

Catching up with a few of Tandon’s Undergraduate Student Council presidents

Student Government 2022 Collage

From top left (clockwise): Florence Tong, Alexandra Brinton, Dean Jelena Kovačević, and Nawal Panjwani

A cursory read of NYU Tandon’s Undergraduate Student Council (TUSC) constitution can point to the responsibilities of the organization and its officers, including:

  • To serve as the official representative of the undergraduate student body
  • Advocate student issues and concerns to school leadership  
  • When requested provide student representatives to committees

But the true crux is embodied in the passage that charges them with “enhancing the educational experience of Tandon students by providing value towards their Innovation and Entrepreneurial goals” and “providing leadership opportunities, community, and global building.”

Even that, however, barely scratches the surface of everything the members of TUSC accomplish and the extent of their service to Tandon and its students.

“Since I joined Tandon, it has been my pleasure to see a succession of strong, talented young women at the helm of the Undergraduate Student Council,” Dean Jelena Kovačević says. “They have inspired and supported each other in the goal of serving their fellow students, and I believe they embody what it means to be Tandon Made.” 

We recently caught up with a few of TUSC’s dynamic presidents to learn more about them, their time at Tandon, and their current activities.


Florence Tong (Computer Engineering, ‘20)

Two-Term President 2018-19 and 2019-20

Florence Tong

What made you want to run for TUSC?

My class had been the first to enter after the name change to Tandon, and I felt that we were a school on the rise, so I wanted everyone to know it. Our students have so much talent, and I realized that as president, I could find ways to showcase that to the broader community.

In addition, Dean Jelena had just arrived, and I was excited that the school was getting its first-ever woman leader. She was such an inspiration to me! 


What were some of the proudest accomplishments of your tenure?

A few things stand out in my mind. One is that we got the school to allocate more funds for students to attend conferences. When organizations like the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers, the Society of Women Engineers, and the National Society of Black Engineers hold their annual events, they present great opportunities for networking and career development. It can be expensive to register for and travel to a conference, however, and many students have financial constraints that prevent them from attending. Having funds earmarked for that purpose was a real boon; during my second term, once the plan was in place, the number of students able to participate doubled, and many of those students made valuable contacts and set their careers in motion as a result.

Another thing was that I worked with Associate Dean for Undergraduate and Graduate Academics Peter Voltz to make it possible for students to earn credit for an internship. That might not sound like a big deal, but international students are not allowed to take on internships in the US unless they earn academic credit, so this made a very real difference for them.  

An initiative that I worked on over my two years as President is Swipe It Forward. It addresses the issue of food insecurity on campus. I worked with Student Affairs and Dining Services to create a program that enables students to donate extra meal swipes at the dining halls for other students to then use. It was piloted at Jasper Kane and then expanded to a dining hall on the Washington Square Campus. By the time I graduated I cemented conversations to expand the program to all dining halls in the following years to come.


How did your presidency help shape you as a person?

Coming to NYU, I had experiences in leadership roles but growing up I was naturally very shy which limited my confidence in my abilities. My first two years at Tandon were plagued with self-doubt, but when I recognized the need for changes I took a huge leap and ran for President - something I never thought I would do. The experience as a whole changed me on a fundamental level, giving me the confidence to lead and be outgoing. Suffice to say that now, I’m unafraid to speak out when something needs to be said or to take action when something needs to be done. 


What have you been doing since leaving Tandon?

I’m now a global business analyst at a hypergrowth software company called Snyk. When I graduated and was hired there, it was a startup, but it now has well over 1,000 employees. I work with stakeholders at all levels of the company, including at the executive level, and I never hesitate to raise my hand or share my ideas thanks to my formative experiences at Tandon.   


Alexandra Brinton (Business and Technology Management, ‘22)

Outgoing President 2021-22

Alexandra Brinton

What made you want to run for TUSC?

Flo Tong was an enormous inspiration to me. Because of her, I got involved as soon as I could. Early on I served as marketing commissioner, so I was responsible for some of our social media presence, which I loved doing. Later I became wellness commissioner, and I focused on physical and mental health initiatives. I became Director of Programming just in time for the pandemic to hit, which, as you can imagine posed a real challenge since everyone was attending classes remotely and because of Zoom fatigue, they weren’t really eager to attend virtual events. 

Despite that, I felt I could do a lot of good as president; when in-person learning resumed, we knew that our first-, second-, and third-year students were very unfamiliar with the campus, so we set out to welcome them all to Tandon in unique ways. 


What were some of the proudest accomplishments of your tenure?

Because of the unusual circumstances, we focused mainly on transitional programming to help everyone get acclimated. We wanted to assure that we didn’t simply revert back to 2019; we wanted to bounce back even better. (And as proof that we’re bouncing back, we held the first in-person Spirit Week in two years!)

The pandemic really highlighted our common humanity and responsibility to one another, and as part of that, we launched a project where students wrote cards and letters to the people who help keep the school running but who often get overlooked, like the facilities staff and the security officers. We wanted to let them know we appreciated everything they were doing to keep us healthy and safe.

We also turned to the broader community and planned initiatives like a three-part, cost-free robotics workshop that reached 150 local middle school students. In addition, we are in the works of finalizing a mentorship program with the nearby Westinghouse High School, and we hope this is an initiative that the next generation of TUSC will carry on. This year we passed a new TUSC constitution that outlines a new branch, so this upcoming year will be the first that we have a Community Outreach Branch that will focus on campus safety, civic and service engagement, and Brooklyn activity at large.


How did your presidency help shape you as a person?

I captained my high school’s cross-country team and knew I had some leadership ability, but my confidence is a more integral part of me now; I don’t have to give it any thought–it’s organic. That’s an enormous personal change. 


What will you be doing when you leave Tandon?

I completed an internship at Northwell Health LIJ Valley Stream as a student, and I’ve accepted an offer as a Finance and Operations Management Associate. I am really excited to work on some health policy and equity projects there as well. One project I focused on during my internship last summer was Northwell’s gun violence prevention campaign. That’s an important issue to me–my senior capstone project focused on using artificial intelligence to mitigate gun violence–so I hope to be able to continue working on that in some capacity. 


Nawal Panjwani (Biomolecular Science, ‘23)

Incoming President 2022-23

Nawal Panjwani

What made you want to run for TUSC?

I had been part of the student council in high school, and I knew, as a commuter student, it would be a great way to get involved and meet people. That’s only part of the story though; during my first semester, I heard Flo Tong give a speech at our Freshman Convocation, and that was an enormous inspiration. Alexandra Brinton also saw something in me and encouraged me to leverage my leadership skills as the next TUSC president. I started out as a Marketing and Public Relations Commissioner before becoming Director of Marketing, and although I knew it would be an enormous responsibility, with Alexandra graduating, I decided to run for the presidency. 


What do you hope to accomplish during your tenure?

As a student leader, my goal has always been to connect, empower, and inspire the student body. I hope to further my ambitions and enhance the Tandon experience as president next year.

We’re still actually in a somewhat transitional post-COVID period, and many people are drained: motivation and engagement can be hard to muster. We want to change that, and I think one of the best ways is to make personal connections. I’ll be spending a lot of time speaking to people one-on-one, finding out what’s important to them and how to best serve them. I want to plan events people can really get excited about, whether those are social, career-oriented or community initiatives.

It’s exciting that we now have a branch focused on community outreach. Given recent occurrences in the city, I expect we’ll be targeting some of our efforts toward violence prevention and community safety. That’s a topic Alexandra’s been very passionate about, and I want to follow her lead in making it a priority.


Between your classes and TUSC, you must not have a lot of spare time; are you involved in any other activities?

I definitely keep busy. I’ve been interested in the biomedical field since attending an allied health-focused high school, and when I got to Tandon, in addition to TUSC, I joined the Prehealth Student Board. I fell in love with research during a stint as a clinical research assistant in NYU Langone’s Kirsch Laboratory, where they’re developing novel therapeutics for the treatment of osteoarthritis. I also recently became one of only 11 students across the country to be accepted to the Engineering Summer Program run collaboratively by Memorial Sloan Kettering and Weill Cornell Medicine. I was matched with Dr. Simone Winkler and will work in the Winkler Lab, where they’re researching novel methods in Ultra High-Field Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI). To further immerse myself in the field of engineering and research, I will be pursuing a Master’s in Biomedical Engineering through the BS/MS program and plan on starting my graduate courses this Fall.

So, in general, I’m predicting a hectic but rewarding academic year.