With Two Majors and a Ticket to Stanford, Phong Pham Has a Bright Future

Phong Pham, NCE's 2010 Outstanding Senior in Mechanical Engineering, will attend Stanford University for a master's in robotics, mechatronics and control systems.

Phong Pham, who did two majors simultaneously -- mechanical and electrical engineering -- will attend Stanford University.  He'll major in mechanical engineering.

After the below story was written, Phong stayed at NJIT for another semester. He had to finish the credits for his two degrees.  He graduated in the winter of 2010, and  worked briefly as a control systems engineer for a local firm. And this spring he was accepted at Stanford, where in the fall he'll concentrate on robotics, mechatronics and control systems.  His NJIT professors think he'll one day be a leader in those fields.  

Phong Pham has a double major: mechanical engineering and electrical engineering.  Both are extremely demanding majors and most students have trouble excelling in one of them. Phong, though, excels in both:  His grade point average is a near perfect -- a 3.95 -- and he’s a scholar in the Albert Dorman Honors College. He was recently named the Newark College of Engineering’s Outstanding Senior in Mechanical Engineering.

Phong started out as just a mechanical engineering major, but after his first semester, he met Albert Dorman, after whom the college is named. Dorman told him that mechanical engineers who understand electrical engineering are sought. Phong was impressed with Dorman’s advice and declared a double major.

And even with his doubly hard majors, Phong manages to find time to be a campus leader. He’s president of two engineering honor societies: Tau Beta Pi and Pi Tau Sigma and he has three scholarships: the Tau Beta Pi Stabile Scholarship Award, the Karr Scholarship and the NJIT Presidential Scholarship.

He also volunteers to help inner-city children. He is a mentor for the NJIT-Newark Public School Robotics program as well as for the FIRST LEGO League. He also tutors Newark school students in math and science.

In 2009 Phong, who happens also to be a good researcher, completed a Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship at Purdue University.  During the fellowship, he designed a device that teaches high school students how fluid is used to help power mechanical systems.

After he graduates, he plans to pursue a graduate degree in mechanical engineering with a concentration in Control Systems. He’s now applying to top graduate schools

In this interview, Phong talks about his majors, his love of engineering, his background in Vietnam and his future plans.

How do you handle two majors?
I must manage my time and my schedule tightly. It’s a challenge but I enjoy it.  I plan to work in control systems, which calls upon both majors.  So I have a clear career goal and I know that having two majors will make me much more marketable. 

When did you leave Vietnam for America?
I came here in 2005.  I spent my senior year as an exchange student in a Texas high school.  A friend of mine from Vietnam, Tai Anh Duong, was a top mechanical engineering student at NJIT and he highly recommended it to me.  He said NJIT was a great school with diverse students from all over the world. That made me feel good. I applied and won a scholarship form the Honors College, so I enrolled.

What do your parents do, and did their jobs influence you?
My mother is an architect and my father is an agricultural engineer.  My mother wanted me to be an architect but I’m not good at drawing.  My interests are in control systems – robots and automation. When I build a robot or an automated function, it gives me happiness.

What motivates you to study so hard?
I would say my mom is a good model for me.  She motivates me and I learned a lot from her. She works hard and sacrificed a lot to send me to the U.S.  Also, my father always encouraged me to study hard, especially in math, which he started teaching me when I was 3 years old.  My mother always told me, “The harder you try the more successful you will be.”  She herself lived her life like this, so I listened to her advice.

What was the favorite project that you’ve worked on?
The one I’m doing now is great. As part of a competition sponsored by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME), I’m building an autonomous waste sorter.  You put waste into a machine and it automatically categorizes it into plastic, steel, aluminum, etc. I’ve entered it in the upcoming ASME competition.  That should be great fun.

You also did research at Purdue University. Can you talk about that?
Last semester, I did the summer research program at Purdue. For my project I designed a micro excavator that uses water hydraulics.  I built it as a way to show teach high school students about fluid power systems and how water can be used as a fluid in machines.  It was invaluable experience.

Looking back, are you glad you chose NJIT?
NJIT has given me a lot: vast knowledge, generous scholarships and many opportunities to get involved on campus: the honor societies, community service and being in Honors College and enjoying all it offers its students.  I’ve great friends here from around the world; the students here are so diverse. I have friends from India and Korea, China and Pakistan.  I like to travel, so it’s good to have friends who will live all over the world.

(By Robert Florida, University Web Services)