NJIT Senior Segues From Co-op to Career at IBM

Yasmine El Garhi works on z Systems models displayed in the Client Briefing Center at IBM in Poughkeepsie.

Yasmine El Garhi will soon be assuming her dream job. The NJIT senior, who will graduate this December with a dual degree in Human Computer Interaction and Business, already has landed a position as a user experience designer on the design team at IBM—“the exact role that I want,” she said.

El Garhi will be involved in design thinking at the venerable technology corporation to help solve real, complex problems and create new, more effective strategies around IBM products, always with the end user in mind. She describes the process as a continuum of research, design, testing and, as necessary, fine-tuning before developers take over to code, retest and launch products.

She began a co-op at IBM in its Poughkeepsie, N.Y., office this past summer and made such a great impression on the company, it not only extended her stay for the fall semester, but also offered her a full-time job. In addition to completing her final classes at the university, she now puts in 20 hours a week for IBM, visiting the Poughkeepsie headquarters, which takes her three hours to get there, one day every other week. Come this January, after she graduates from NJIT, she will embark on a three-month IBM design boot camp in Texas and then relocate to upstate New York.

Getting the offer “was so exciting” for El Garhi. Although many people questioned why she would want to work for IBM, citing its reputation for being old and stodgy, she quickly pointed out the errors in their thinking. “Even my mom said that at one point, but then she looked it up and she saw Bluemix, she saw Watson, and she was like, ‘Wow, they’re doing so many cool things,’” said El Garhi. IBM is “doing so much now. They’re really turning around.”

Indeed it is. Over the past few years, the information technology giant has transformed its workplace culture to be design-minded and its products more user-friendly. Toward this end, it has retrained its global workforce and brought on hundreds of new graduates with fresh perspectives for user design.

El Garhi will be among this group. “That’s what I’ve been wanting to do for the past two years,” offered El Garhi, who was recommended for her IBM co-op by classmate Adaoha Uzoho-Onyekwelu, then also an IBM co-op student and now an NJIT graduate employed by the company. “It took me a while to soul search and find what I wanted to do, but I found out that I wanted to be a designer.” 

The soon-to-be IBM staffer attributes both her academic and forthcoming-career success to many strong and dedicated women in her life, starting with her mother, who raised El Garhi as a single parent and rose through the ranks to become a vice president of a global insurance brokerage firm. She also credits her fourth-grade teacher for encouraging her to pursue STEM subjects.

In fact, before beginning fifth grade, El Garhi enrolled in NJIT’s FEMME summer class, offered by the university’s Center for Pre-College Programs, the oldest and most successful program of its kind in New Jersey. FEMME provides post-fourth through post-eighth grade girls with opportunities to enhance their mathematics, science and technological academic achievement, and develop problem-solving and critical-thinking skills. Its intensive summer component includes classroom discussions, laboratory experiments, projects and field trips. El Garhi enjoyed the curriculum so much that she took a FEMME class every summer through eighth grade.

All these years later, she remains certain that the FEMME classes boosted her self-confidence while demonstrating that she could succeed in STEM. She is just as sure they will help her “use her voice” professionally in her chosen field, which is typically dominated by men.

“Even though I didn’t pursue engineering, I did pursue technology,” said El Garhi, noting that FEMME showed her there are resources and mentors to be found for women interested in all STEM vocations. “I think that’s really important.”

She herself is eager to pay it forward and has already done so as a Peer Advisor Liaison in NJIT’s Advising Success Center. Her advice to other women interested in STEM, or any other field for that matter? “It’s realizing what you want and doing it and going for it.” 

Julie Jacobs