Sister power

Sibling pairs find support and success at NYU Tandon

Choosing where to apply to college and what to major in are among the most important decisions a person might ever make. There’s a lot riding on hitting upon the right options, including career satisfaction and potential earnings. Sure, friends may have their opinions, and there’s no shortage of school counselors ready with expert advice. But these three members of the NYU Tandon Class of 2023 — Eva Ahmetaj, Abhi Deverakonda, and Riya-Aisha Patel — turned to people they had known their entire lives: their big sisters, each of whom had attended the School of Engineering in years past and could speak firsthand of the joys and challenges of earning a Tandon degree. 

Laura & Eve Ahmetaj

Laura (left) and Eve (right) Ahmetaj

Eva, a mechanical engineering major, says she can’t remember a time when she didn’t look up to her sister, Laura (‘18). “I always wanted to be like her,” Eva says. “Whether it was how she dressed, how hard she studied and career-focused she is, or how empathetic she consistently acts — there was always so much I admired.” Laura, who also majored in mechanical engineering and now works in Northrop Grumman’s California-based Space Sector, was happy to be a role model. “Our parents came to the U.S. from Albania, and while they wanted my siblings and me to get a good education, they couldn’t really give advice about the college application process, extracurricular activities, or careers,” she says. “I figured those things out, and Eva now gets the benefit of everything I discovered.”  

Deverokondas Sisters (Then & Now)

The Deverakondas (Then and Now)

The Deverakondas enjoyed an increasingly warm, trusting relationship as they matured, says Divya (‘18). “We were recently looking through old pictures, and they showed us being very affectionate and protective of each other.” Although they are aligned academically — both chose to study biomolecular science, a popular starting point for careers in medicine — they don’t see themselves as totally similar: “Divya is more of a reader, and I’m a runner,” Abhi explains.

The Patels (Then & Now)

The Patels (Then and Now)

The Patels also both chose biomolecular science, making them third-generation STEM aficionados since their paternal grandfather was a chemical engineer back in India, their father a cardiologist, and their mother a trained microbiologist who works in the pharmaceutical industry. With that many older role models, they forged not so much as a mentor and mentee relationship but a collaborative one. (If they were not so hard-working and upstanding, one might even say partners in crime.) “We’ve never had any rivalry,” Radhika-Alicia (‘20) and Riya-Aisha say, “and if one makes a mistake, the other tries to learn from it, which really gives you double the chances to get things right.”

One thing they feel they both definitely got right: choosing Tandon. “I loved it the minute I toured,” Radhika-Alicia, who is now earning a master’s degree in public health at Columbia University with an eye on medical school in the future, recalls. “The biomolecular science program fit my needs perfectly, and when the time came for Riya-Aisha to consider colleges, she got to visit and attend classes alongside me.”

Similarly, Laura was able to introduce Eva to some of her instructors, including Industry Professor of Mechanical Engineering Joseph Borowiec; show her around the MakerSpace; and give her an up-close look at the Tandon experience. “I was particularly excited to hear her talk about the activities she was involved in, like building an off-road vehicle as part of the school’s very first Baja SAE team, or participating in the $300K Entrepreneurs Challenge,” Eva says. “Now that I’m here, I’m helping design and build a cube satellite to test a state-of-art electrical propulsion system to successfully be launched into space.” (For her part, Laura is gratified that Eva is sharing some of what made her own college years so memorable, but at a Tandon that has markedly grown in diversity and opportunity.)  

Abhi also felt excited to hear about her older sister’s adventures. “When Divya called on the phone, you could hear in her voice how independent and mature she was getting and how much she loved being in New York City,” Abhi says. Still, even as late as Admitted Students Weekend, Divya wasn’t entirely sure what Abhi would choose: “I had given her my perspective and talked about my experiences, then encouraged her to think about her own goals to reach her decision,” Divya, who is in her third year at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, recalls. “That weekend sealed the deal though.” 

Among the best pieces of advice circulated among the sisters:

  • Get involved, join clubs and competitions, network, and immerse yourself fully in college life
  • Even if you’re not sure engineering is for you as a profession, consider an engineering school; it provides a solid foundation, and there are numerous minors to explore and paths to take
  • Even if you don’t have older siblings as role models, you’ll find them at Tandon if you look
  • Study hard, but don't forget to take care of yourself
  • Keep an open mind when choosing classes, majors, and jobs: you never know what will ultimately light a spark for you
  • Keep an open mind, as well, about where your skills can take you: there are more options than you might think

The Ahmetaj family, for one, may soon be circulating that advice further: Laura and Eva’s younger brother is now also considering Tandon. “Our father would have liked to have earned an engineering degree himself,” they say. “It might be that, through us, he ends up with three of them!”