Student Spotlight

Now that we are officially the New York University Polytechnic School of Engineering, it’s an especially exciting time to be studying at NYU's Brooklyn location. There have never been more opportunities for cross-institutional collaboration and research, and the fellowships, competitions, and other offerings seem countless. And even though we’re now an integral part of NYU's large multi-school university, there’s no need to fear getting lost in the crowd; our students have a habit of shining in all settings.

Among those bright students are the quartet profiled here: Terrence Agbi, who can be found working at one of the business incubators, planning programs at the Greenhouse, and winning fellowships along the way; John Ward, tapped to take part in the University Leadership Honors Course; Amanda Setiawan, an ardent participant in Engineers without Borders; and Kevin Wang, who recently returned from Abu Dhabi as part of NYU’s Global Student Leadership Summit. It doesn't take a geoscientist to see that each of them is a gem.

Terrence Agbi
When he arrived at NYU School of Engineering, it was a homecoming of sorts for master’s candidate Terrence Agbi, who first became familiar with the campus as a member of Inner Force, a year-round academic enrichment program held at NYU School of Engineering and City Tech. The Brooklyn and Queens native later moved on to join the academically rigorous program, Prep for Prep 9, which prepared him for a four-year career at Middlesex, a boarding school in Concord, Massachusetts. He later went on to study psychology at Wesleyan University. “I worked for a time, in information-technology recruiting,” the gregarious Agbi explains, “and I found that I really loved the tech part of the equation. So I researched schools, discovered what a great, affordable option this was, and here I am back in Brooklyn.”

The School of Engineering is just as happy to have him as he is to be here; Agbi, who is studying management with a focus on project management, immediately dove into student life. He is now on the executive board of the Design Tinkering Club, and in that capacity he has big plans for the upcoming anniversary of the student-run Greenhouse—including initiatives like Founder Fridays and the Prototyping Month—so stayed tuned. He also mentors middle-school students, has founded a website for independent college advisors, and works in business development for the Varick Street incubator.

The latest news is that he was recently chosen as a University Innovation Fellow, which allows him to take part in a National Science Foundation-supported program that empowers engineering student leaders to catalyze increased entrepreneurial activity on their campuses. (The initiative also receives support from Stanford University and the National Collegiate Inventors and Innovators Alliance.)  A new online platform built by the Fellows, who hail from more than 50 campuses across the country, launched in late December, with the aim of encouraging students to share information about entrepreneurship programs at their schools. The platform,, got a big boost directly after it went active, when the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy blogged about it in a post on start-up culture. While we congratulate him on winning the fellowship, something tells us that Agbi would be catalyzing increased entrepreneurial activity on campus no matter what!

John Ward
Sophomore John Ward is way too modest. Asked why he thinks he was chosen to take part in the University Leadership Honors Course, which is led by NYU Deputy President Diane Yu, he expresses some befuddlement. “It probably has to do with my research,” he finally admits. “I worked with Professor Cappos [during the Seventh Annual Undergraduate Summer Research Program] on a security framework for updating software, and that went well.” Prompted more, he admits that he’s also known for his entrepreneurial zeal. “I might think of earning a doctoral degree one day,” he says, “but right now it’s hard for me to imagine a time when I’ll want to focus that narrowly on one specific topic. My interests are very broad, and my personality is such that I like to be doing a lot of things at once.”

Ward, a graduate of Virginia’s Grassfield High School, hails from a quiet town near the North Carolina border, and finds Brooklyn an exciting place for a budding entrepreneur. “I really appreciate the opportunities that NYU and Poly are giving me,” he says. “It would be hard to imagine a better environment.” He is particularly grateful to have been chosen for Yu’s leadership course, which gives sophomores from schools across NYU the opportunity to reflect seriously on leadership and to meet prominent local, national, and international leaders in various fields. As part of the two-credit course, he and his fellow students will be expected to complete a wide range of reading assignments, study the leadership characteristics of a prominent global leader, develop leadership skills through self-assessment and peer review, and better their interviewing and public-speaking skills. “I’m really hoping to learn to improve my performance in interviews,” he says. “That’s an important skill for not only entrepreneurs but everyone.”  The first step just might involve learning not to be so modest!

Amanda Setiawan
While she’s already been all over the world, Amanda Setiawan is still thrilled to be going to Abu Dhabi in late January, as part of NYU’s Global Student Leadership Summit. “It’s a particularly apt time for me to participate, because the theme of the conference is ‘Leadership Across Boundaries,’” Setiawan, who currently heads the student chapter of Engineers Without Borders (EWB), winningly explains.

In her work with EWB, Setiawan—who grew up in the town of Diamond Bar, California, and spent some of her early years in Jakarta—has traveled to countries around the globe and intimately understands the importance of bridging geographic and cultural divides. “Whether we’re in El Salvador or Kenya,” she says, “it’s important to listen to people and learn from them. Even though we’re coming as engineers to help them and believe we know all we need to know from a technical standpoint, the inhabitants of a place have a lot to teach us.”

As part of the two-day summit, Setiawan and her fellow NYU students will have opportunities for peer-to-peer learning and shared inquiry into an inclusive, distributed, and ethical brand of leadership. They are expected to discover that such leadership requires more listening than talking and more engaging than directing. “I can relate those aims directly to my work with EWB,” she says. “I’m really there as a facilitator, particularly when we’re collaborating on a project that brings together computer science majors, math majors, civil engineering majors, and more. When you’ve got a group so diverse working together to solve a problem, and you’re immersed in an entirely new culture, the boundaries and borders just dissolve.”

Kevin Wang
Setiawan will not be the only School of Engineering student in Abu Dhabi come January 23. Also going is Kevin Wang, who has been a member in Eta Kappa Nu, the electrical and computer engineering honor society of the IEEE, and Tau Beta Pi, the oldest engineering honor society in the country, among other groups. Despite those memberships, Wang is not the typical engineering student. “In high school, when I thought of my future education, I envisioned going to art school,” he recalls. “But I was attending school in Taipei, and I had the opportunity to come to New York. I found the energy surrounding the city to be incredible.” Wang, a California native who moved with his family to Taiwan when he was in third grade, is now expected to graduate in 2015 with a combined bachelor’s degree in computer engineering and master’s degree in math. Still, he hasn’t abandoned his interest in the arts. Ask which teacher or class has influenced him the most here, and he mentions poet Jean Gallagher’s English course. “That really changed the way I thought and the way I look at the world,” he asserts.

Wang embodies much of what makes the merger so exciting: the chance to educate students who are just as comfortable talking about literature as about millimeter waves (an area Wang worked on at NYU WIRELESS, under the direction of Ted Rappaport). “It’s going to totally revolutionize wireless communication,” he says enthusiastically, before moving on just as enthusiastically to a series of other topics.

He can’t wait to have the chance to share some of his interests at the Global Student Leadership Summit. “It’s going to be a great opportunity to meet people, have conversations, and network,” he predicts. If Wang is any indication, the next generation of leaders is going to be an especially well-rounded and engaged one.