NJIT's Outstanding Seniors Step onto the World Stage

A veterinary leadership program at St. George's University in Grenada was one of Martina Jackson's stops en route to graduate school.

Come graduation, NJIT seniors will embark on new lives, some in cities hundreds of miles from home and others just a train stop away. Some will join research teams at top-notch graduate schools such as Yale, the University of Pennsylvania, Columbia, and Rutgers New Jersey Medical School, and others will take up challenging posts at global companies such as Microsoft, Exxon Mobil, and Cisco Systems.

For some graduates, these exciting career outcomes reflect choices made early on in life and pursued doggedly to satisfying conclusions, while for others they are the happy result of a moment of inspiration in a college class or laboratory. For still others, they are the fruits of skillful job market navigations as Commencement loomed.

But there is a common thread linking many of the stories from the outstanding Class of 2014:  the willingness of NJIT students to stretch their intellectual limits in class and to pack in as much capacity-testing, real-world experience as possible in undergraduate research projects, internships for established firms in the region and technology startups at the Enterprise Development Center (EDC), and in a growing number of cases, work and volunteer programs abroad.

Martina Jackson ’14, a biology major from South Brunswick, combined an abiding love of animals – mice, iguanas, hamsters, dogs, frogs – with a passion for science to earn herself a spot at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine next fall. She logged in more than 700 hours of experience shadowing veterinarians, volunteering at zoos, and working on animal research with NJIT professors on her journey to graduate school. “I looked at the highest requirements at the top schools,” she recounted.

Jackson, a member of the Albert Dorman Honors College who minored in philosophy and applied ethics, said her interest in becoming a veterinarian transcends the clinical. “Some people think of themselves as dominant to animals, but I believe there is life beyond ours and I am really interested in our relationship with them. We depend on them,” she says.

Hanni Abukhater ’14, a mechanical engineering major from Clifton, hit his stride as a budding entrepreneur – and  workaholic – as an intern the second semester of his junior year at City-Hydroponics, an EDC-based vertical farming startup. He was hired full-time soon after his graduation in December and now oversees fundamental aspects of R&D for the fledgling company, optimizing design by shrinking the amount of space the multi-tiered hydroponic system takes up while maximizing the number of plants it can hold, researching components, and figuring out ways to lower both the costs of the frame and the production time.

“We can now produce and assemble our technology within miles of its final installed location,” notes Abukhater, who says he loves the “fast pace, the urgency and the hands-on control” of working for a startup.

Elaine Gomez ’14, a chemical engineering major from Union City, will begin a Ph.D. program at Columbia University this fall, where she will research methods for converting carbon dioxide (CO2), an industrial byproduct that is warming Earth’s atmosphere, into valuable oxygenates and hydrocarbons with the potential to become liquid transportation fuels. She arrives with an impressive level of funding, having recently won a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship, a generous three-year grant that will allow her to focus intensively on research as she pursues her degree. She also comes highly prepared. An Honors College student, Gomez worked for six different organizations as an undergraduate either as a researcher, an intern or a technician.

“I’ve been working toward this goal since I was a little girl in grammar school. I may not have known then all that obtaining a doctorate would entail -- but even now, fully aware of the arduous road ahead of me, I cannot wait to start,” she says.

Luis Mendez ‘14, a chemical engineering major from Union, graduated in three and a half years and is already working for Exxon Mobil, where he is responsible for the daily and long-term operation of various units in the company’s refinery and sulfur plant in Baton Rouge, La. Mendez, who was born in Guatemala and moved with his family to New Jersey when he was nine, has been working extremely hard since high school. His participation in Project SEED, a program run by the American Chemical Society that helps economically disadvantaged high school students learn about scientific careers, allowed him to do research at NJIT for two summers with Gordon Thomas, a professor of physics. He then followed in the footsteps of his sister, Carol, and enrolled in the Honors College.

“NJIT offered me a unique experience; not only was I challenged technically as I progressed in my degree, but I also learned other important skills to be successful in the real world. I learned how to manage my time effectively, work with others, and look outside the box for a challenge,” he says.

Learn about more of the outstanding graduates of the Class of 2014