Flipping a switch, igniting success: Aleena Taufiq ’18

Aleena Taufiq ’18 recently landed her dream job in artificial intelligence and expanded her Geared Up middle school enrichment program. And it all started when she found her passion for engineering through a project at SMU.

Story by Patricia Ward

After her first semester at SMU, Aleena Taufiq ’18 knew the pre-med track she had chosen was not the right path. Three years later, the senior majoring in mechanical engineering and math runs an afterschool enrichment program she developed to inspire middle-school students to pursue engineering, math and science in college.

Taufiq found her major when she signed up for an immersive design challenge offered by the Lyle School of Engineering’s Deason Innovation Gym and joined a team assigned to remake the Slurpee experience for consumers.

The fusion of brainstorming, problem-solving, designing and building sparked an unexpected result. Instead of refreshing the frozen beverage industry, Taufiq reinvented her future.

“I learned my passion through the project,” she says. “I fell in love with engineering.”

To encourage the next generation of students to find the academic direction that’s right for them the way she did, Taufiq developed the afterschool program Geared Up. Her curriculum blends fun, hands-on projects with talks about engineering careers by fellow Lyle students and other guest speakers. While Taufiq hopes some youngsters follow her footsteps into engineering, she devised the educational series to catalyze unbridled learning in all areas.

She targets low-income middle-school students because “that’s an important age to engage their interest in engineering, math and science, and get them to start thinking about college.” Geared Up launched last year at Dallas’ Irma Rangel Young Women’s Leadership School and expanded this year to Life School Oak Cliff and Edward H. Cary Middle School in northwest Dallas.

“On the first day, the kids are always excited when I tell them I’m a mechanical engineer, and they get really excited when they hear I’m from SMU,” she says. “They may not know exactly what a mechanical engineer does, but they definitely know SMU.”

“[My SMU research] experiences taught me so much about different aspects of engineering, and it gave me such a good feeling to be part of research that can have real impact.”

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