She’s Won Two Top Academic Honors: Meet Jumanah Yasmin

Outstanding Senior in Biomedical Engineering and Outstanding Female Engineering Student Junamah Yasmin.

Jumanah Yasmin’s (2009) parents left their homeland – Bangladesh – to come to America when she was 3-years-old.  Her family had a good life in Bangladesh – her father was a policeman – but the schools there weren’t good. Therefore, her parents left the warm embrace of their extended family to come to America, where they started life all over again.  They at first lived in a small apartment in Paterson.  Jumanah’s father, an educated man, took a job working in a convenience store.  Jumanah and her siblings attended gritty city schools not known for academics. But their parents, who had come to America for their children’s’ educations, insisted that they excel academically.

Jumanah did not disappoint them.

She excelled in grammar school and later graduated from John F. Kennedy High School, in Paterson, as class valedictorian.  She won a scholarship to attend the prestigious Albert Dorman Honors College at NJIT. Now a senior at NJIT, Jumanah continues to excel.  She recently won two of the Newark College of Engineering’s highest honors: Outstanding Senior in Biomedical Engineering, her major, and the Outstanding Female Engineering Student. The later honor, known as the Madame Mau Award, is given annually by the Murray Center for Women in Technology

In this interview Jumanah talks about what it was like to grow up in a first-generation immigrant family. She also talks about her research projects at NJIT and her future plans. 

Your family came to America from Bangladesh when you were three.  Can you talk about how your family adapted to American culture?
My parents had a good life in Bangladesh. They were middle class, and all their relatives were together there. So it was hard for them at first in America.  I remember our apartment in Paterson had a hole in the wall and my younger sister almost got lead poisoning from the peeling paint.  I shared a room with my four sisters.  We had the bunk beds.  But I have good memories of that time. We’re a close family so that made us happy.  And now my father works here at NJIT as a policeman – he was a policeman in Bangladesh, so he’s happy.  And we live now in Orange. That said, my father always reminds me and my siblings of, “What I did for you guys.” 

Since your parents came to America for your schooling, did they push you to excel in school?
My father, and my mom, always told us we must excel in school. We had to be the top students.  “Just study hard and all good things will happen to you,” my father would tell us, “people will respect you.”  His message got through to us since he told us over and over. He also told me and my four sisters to be smart and impendent.  My older sisters also encouraged me to excel in school and grilled me on my homework. One of my sisters is in medical school now.”

Well it seems you listened to your parents.  In high school, you graduated first in your class and at NJIT you won two of the university’s highest honors.  How did your father respond to your achievements?
I’m fairly timid, so it takes me awhile to tell him about my accomplishments. Then when I do tell him he says, “What, you are number one, that’s great!”  And he races to the phone and starts calling all our relatives. It’s really very sweet. He and my mother sacrificed a lot to bring is to America, so it makes my happy to make them proud. 

Do you feel you overcame the obstacles you faced as a girl – poverty, gritty city schools, being up-rooted from your homeland?
While I have gone through my share of hardships, I am grateful for all the opportunities that have come my way. Having grown up in an inner-city environment, I learned that success is not measured by who one knows, but more importantly how hard one is willing to work to pull ahead. The more obstacles that come in my way, the more motivation I have to overcome each one.

You also feel strongly about women and engineering. Can you explain why?
One of my main reasons for choosing an engineering field was because it is a male dominant field, and there is this idea that females are not as competent in math in science as males are, which I completely disagree with. I am proud to have been recognized by the Women’s Center and by NCE, and I hope that in the future I can make NJIT proud as a successful graduate.

For your senior Capstone class, you’re doing research for the Kessler Rehabilitation Institute, in West Orange.  What is that research project like?
I, along with two members, am currently working with Kessler on pressure device that will prevent people in wheelchairs from developing ulcers.  People in wheelchairs put a lot of pressure on their gluteus maximus muscles, and this device will redistribute that weight and eliminating peak pressure points. And along with preventing such pressure, the device will also vent air to the patient’s body to reduce moisture in the contact area.  

And during the summer of your senior year in high school, didn't you come to NJIT to do research in chemistry? 
I belonged to the Seeds Program, which gets students research jobs at colleges.  I spent that summer at NJIT researching bacterial cell cultures Professor Edgardo Farinas in his chemistry lab. It was great experience for me. I was young, and it was how I first took an interest in research.

And now, in your senior year at NJIT, you just stared doing research with one of NJIT’s best young research professors, Bryan Pfister.
Yes, and I’ll continue to work with Professor Pfister for master’s degree (I’m in the BS/MS program so I’ve already taken two graduate classes).   I’m helping him research traumatic brain injuries.  Scientists don’t understand exactly what happens to brain cells when they are subject to trauma.  Professor Pfister has a way of growing axons, and then injuring them, to study how the cells respond.  

You’ve had such a rich and rewarding four years here.  Overall, what did you like best about NJIT?
NJIT is a prominent university but it’s not overwhelmingly big, like Rutgers, which, from what I hear from my friends who go there, has hundreds of students in classes.  NJIT is smaller and more personal and you get to know your professors and fellow students.  I’m timid and suspect that I would not speak up in huge classes.  I commute to NJIT from Orange by bus, and the all of my classes are in the quad, which is compact and easy to get around in.  I’ve also had some great professors.

The Honors College is also fantastic; we students get together in the honors lounge and we have special honors classes and lectures and seminars.  I also have a generous honors college scholarship, which was a huge help to my family. 

What are your plans for after you graduate?
I plan to continue with my academic career in graduate school. I have already begun taking master’s level courses, so I should be able to obtain a Master’s Degree within a year. After that, I want to obtain a Ph.D, ideally within three to five years after finishing the Master’s program.

Do you have a dream job or career?
It’s odd, I know I want to make a difference, but I’m reluctant to say in advance in what way that will be. I guess my dreams are still a bit vague, but I am okay with that. I have come to the realization that sometimes allowing life to just run its course is more exciting and rewarding a life than having specific guidelines to everything. I still plan to work as hard as I have been and obtain a PhD degree before the age of thirty, but after that, where life will lead me, I cannot say for certain. Hopefully, I will be able to travel the world and bring back with me some exciting, adventurous stories I can share with my grandchildren—be the “cool” grandma.

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(By Robert Florida, University Web Services)