This interview with Sobia from Bahrain starts with her request to her parents “Dad, I want to study Bachelor’s Degree in USA”. You can imagine the reaction from her parents, when she doesn’t even know how to boil an egg.
started this interview without any expectations. But, more I started learning about Sobia, I was fascinated by her accomplishments as an 18 year old who came to USA. She’s been in USA since 2002. and working as Design Engineer for GE.
You will learn how she overcame so many challenges as USA and How University of Texas at Tyler helped her get job in General Electric.
Watch Full Program
Summary of the Interview
- Decision to Study Abroad
- Parents condition
- How I convinced my conservative parents to let me study Bachelors in USA
- 20 Minutes Long F1 Visa Interview ( without sufficient funds)
- First few days in USA
- 3 Hour One way bus commute to school
- University to Community College Transfer
- Community College to 4 Years University Transfer
- Moving to University of Texas at Tyler for Bachelors Degree
- Bachelors in Mechanical Engineering ( only female international student in the department)
- Second F1 Visa Interview
- Masters Degree in Mechanical Engineering
- Financial Aid and Scholarship
- Cost of Living
- Design Engineer job at General Electric
Want to have the same experience in USA as Sobia?
She did both Bachelors and Masters at University of Texas at Tyler in Mechanical Engineering. Check Out University of Texas at Tyler for your Bachelor’s or Masters Degree.
Sobia Farooq’s Incredible Journey from Middle East to USA to Design Engineer in GE Transcript
TIME Raghuram Sukumar: Hello, everyone! Today, I have Sobia Farooq with me today. She has a very interesting story. I don’t know how to introduce her because there are lots of twists in her story. We’ve spent about almost close to five to 10 minutes trying to understand, to learn about her.
The introduction that I can give to you guys about her is she really fought hard to convince her parents to let her so that she can come and study in the US along with her best friend. But after two years, there was a huge twist. Then she has had to move a place where she had to adjust all over again. Even before that, when she went for a visa interview, the visa officer told her she doesn’t have enough money to study. So there are a lot of twists and interesting stories behind her.
Hello, Sobia. Welcome to the program.
Sobia Farooq: Hi. How are you doing? Thank you for having me.
Raghuram Sukumar: Sure! Thanks for deciding to spend your good evening time with us.
Sobia Farooq: No problem. I’m really excited to share my experiences with everyone.
00:01:07 Raghuram Sukumar: Alright. You are introduced because you went to the University of Texas at Tyler, and you graduated in 2010, and now, you are working as a design engineer. Right?
Sobia Farooq: Yes, I’m working as a design engineer.
Raghuram Sukumar: You’re working as a design engineer for General Electric.
Sobia Farooq: Yes.
Raghuram Sukumar: Alright. Let’s go in a chronological order of your experience.
Sobia Farooq: Okay.
00:01:33 Raghuram Sukumar: Let’s go and start with your parents. You were in Bahrain. You are going to high school, and you decided, “Okay. I’m going to go study in the US.”
Sobia Farooq: Yes.
00:01:44 Raghuram Sukumar: How did your parents react?
Sobia Farooq: My parents were very skeptical. I’m the only daughter of my parents, and I was very spoiled, so they were skeptical about letting their only daughter go to a country where they have never been. I did not have any relatives over here, so they were skeptical. They were concerned that how am I going to manage everything, and I was right out of high school, so I really didn’t have experience dealing with anything. When I came here, I had not even boiled an egg. It was just my school, my high school studies, my friends, and that’s it.
What helped in convincing with my parents is that my best friend whose brother was already here—he was studying at Oklahoma State University—my friend decided to come here. This friend of mine has been my friend since we were in fifth grade, so my parents knew her very well. My parents knew her family very well. I told them that she’s planning to go there and study, so I will have her with me, and it will be a good opportunity for me to study. It will open up new doors for me. They were still a little skeptical, but they said, “Okay. Let’s go ahead and start applying, find out about the paperwork process, and let’s see if you even get the visa or not.”
So I put together all the documentation myself. They said, “If you want to come here, you take the responsibility for putting everything together,” so I worked with my parent’s brother to put all the documentation together, applied for it, took my total exam, and went until I have everything worked out, and here I am.
00:03:33 Raghuram Sukumar: Alright. You told you had to convince your parents, and then your friend had to convince her parents, and then you had to convince her parents, and she has to convince your parents, right?
Sobia Farooq: Yes. Because she was my childhood friend, she was always over at my place, and I was always over at her place. She would tell my parents that “Please, allow her to come,” and then I told her parents that I’m trying to convince my parents as well to allow me to go. That kind of helped out, because for my parents, it was assuring to know that a very good friend of mine was planning to go, and she would tell my parents, “Don’t worry. My brother is over there. He will help us out with anything that you need.” When I would go talk to her parents, they would be assured to that she wouldn’t be here being a girl by herself. She would have me who’s like a friend to her. We’ve been together, friends, since like fifth grade.
It was comforting for both of our parents to know that we’re going to be here together, and then we could go to classes together. Especially our first two years, our basic classes were pretty much the same. She’s a finance major, and we went further along in our studies, our classes. We’re in different departments, but in the beginning, at least our classes were the same. So we were together, and we could kind of rely on each other. It was assuring for both her parents and my parents.
00:05:08 Raghuram Sukumar: So you convinced them, convinced your parents. Before we get to the story about what happened after two years, what happened after two years with your friend, let’s talk about convince your parents, then your friend’s brother helped you with your application process, and you applied just for two school, right? One was…
Sobia Farooq: Yes. I applied for Oklahoma State University and for Tulsa Community College.
00:05:40 Raghuram Sukumar: Okay. And then you got admission from both these schools?
Sobia Farooq: Yes, I got accepted in both.
00:05:45 Raghuram Sukumar: Alright. This was back in 2002 fall semester?
Sobia Farooq: Yes.
00:05:51 Raghuram Sukumar: Okay. Let’s talk about the visa interview process. How did the visa interview go for you?
Sobia Farooq: It was actually very interesting, because when I went for the interview, I was convinced that I will not get the visa. The person who was doing my interview, he looked at all my documentation, my high school transcript, my total scores, and he saw that the grades and everything were really good. Until that part, I was happy. And then he got to the part and he looked at my bank statement, and the first thing he said was, “Well, your parents don’t have enough money to support your five years of college education. They only have enough money to pay for your schooling for the first year.” I told him… I was like, “Well…” First of all, I didn’t even realize that was the case, because on my I20, I saw the amount. I thought that amount reflected for the entire five years. I didn’t realize that amount only reflected what is going to cost for a year. I told him… I was like, “Well, my parents are going to try their best to do everything to support me, and this is what I have.” So I was pretty convinced that he’s going to be like, “I’m sorry. You don’t have enough funding, and he’s going to reject me.”
I remember, there was another visa officer sitting next to him, and this visa officer tells him, “Hey, she’s a really good student. She has really good grades. Let her go. Give her the visa because she can always go, and work on campus, and help support herself, and help pay for tuition.” I guess he listened to the guy. He said, “Okay.” He told me right away, “Oh, you’re accepted.” He told me to wait a couple of minutes. They stamped my passport, and within… I think the interview process was about 20 minutes, and then the whole thing took an hour for me to get my passport, and I came back home with a visa.
00:07:58 Raghuram Sukumar: Wow! So after the interview, you had to wait for an hour, and then you got your passport on the same day?
Sobia Farooq: Yes.
00:08:03 Raghuram Sukumar: Wow. Nowadays, it takes about three to four days before they mail the passport back to your home.
Sobia Farooq: Yes. I’ve heard that it’s changed a lot now, but at that time, I was very surprised. Even at that time, I think they used to do it that way. I think that was a good day for me. Everything was falling in the right place. They gave me the passport right then, so I didn’t even have to go back and pick up my passport.
00:08:32 Raghuram Sukumar: I really hope that you feel glad now that things turned out to be okay back in 2002.
Sobia Farooq: Yes, I am. I’m definitely glad. All the experiences I’ve had and where I am today. Of course, if that person would not have given me the visa, this whole journey of being here today would not have started.
00:08:57 Raghuram Sukumar: Yes. You got the visa, and you were two high school students who just graduated from high school. As you said, you didn’t know how to boil an egg when you came here. So you came to Stillwater, which is in Oklahoma, and you came here. Your friend’s brother takes you to a grocery store. What happens there?
Sobia Farooq: Both of us were girls, and of course, him being a guy and being here by himself, he said, “Well, two girls are coming over. They’re going to come and cook for me!” So we get here, and three days later, he takes us to a grocery store and says, “Okay. Guys, buy whatever you need, because from tomorrow, you’re going to start cooking.” I remember me and my friend, we’re both just staring at each other like, “What is this place?” We’ve never done groceries. We’ve never made a grocery list. We didn’t know how to cook. I mean my friend, she would not even touch eggs because just the smell of it and stuff would drive her crazy. And so we’re just like looking at him saying, “We don’t know what to get.” But eventually, he said, “Well, you have to learn.” We started looking things up.
We went to live and learn. It was an exciting experience for both of us, and because we were together, we would experiment with food. On the days that it did not turn out good, we would just cook it and leave it.
00:10:31 Raghuram Sukumar: Invite her brother to come and eat when…?
Sobia Farooq: Yes, we would just invite him… On the days, I remember, that sometimes the food would not turn out really good at all, but he or his friends would come over, and they would still have it.
00:10:47 Raghuram Sukumar: That’s what happens, right?
Sobia Farooq: Yes.
00:10:49 Raghuram Sukumar: Alright. Probably, you’ve never paid bills in your life before that.
Sobia Farooq: No.
00:10:57 Raghuram Sukumar: You had to handle everything.
Sobia Farooq: Yes.
00:11:00 Raghuram Sukumar: How did you guys manage?
Sobia Farooq: I think the fact that because my friend’s brother was here, first of all, that was a big support. And then the second thing was that because it was both of us. My friend and me, we were very close. We’ve been together. We graduated from high school together. We have been together since fifth grade. So we kind of had a support system for each other. We figured things out, because really, the first thing that we learned after coming here was that you really cannot depend on people every day or constantly for stuff. You have to take the initiative to figure things out on your own, because everybody’s got their own schedule.
When we got here, at first, we thought, “Okay. My friend’s brother would take us around everywhere,” but when we got here, we realized, “Well, he has his own class schedule.” He has his own… He was working as well, so he has to manage his work in classes, and he cannot really manage both of our class schedules as well. So we figured out, we got the map for the public transportation system. We figured out how to go around using the public transportation system, get to classes. It was challenging, but I think that was the fun part of it because we were young. Right out of high school, we were on our own and just figure things out every day on our own and learning. I think it was very fun.
00:12:36 Raghuram Sukumar: You guys came here, you started learning, and why did you transfer from Oklahoma State University to the community college after one semester?
Sobia Farooq: We got here… Because we had come here on the visa for Oklahoma State University, there was a requirement that you had to study for a semester at the university on which visa you came on, so we had to attend the first semester over there. It was very expensive to study at Oklahoma State University, and plus, the thing was that we were living in Tulsa, which was three hours away from Stillwater, which is where the main campus was and all the classes were.
In Tulsa, they had a satellite campus for the main campus in Stillwater, and there was a shuttle that would run every day from Tulsa to Stillwater, but we would take a three-hour shuttle from Tulsa to go to Stillwater to attend classes, and then at night, take the shuttle and then come back. It was getting very difficult, because if for some reason, you ended missing the shuttle, you would be stranded at the Stillwater campus. We figured out that it’s probably going to be better for us if we just transfer full-time to Tulsa Community College. We won’t have to do the commute, plus the tuition cost was more reasonable as well.
00:14:04 Raghuram Sukumar: So you were right out of high school. I can’t imagine that you had to come… Was it three hours one way?
Sobia Farooq: Three hours one way.
00:14:17 Raghuram Sukumar: Wow. So you are living with your friend’s brother in Tulsa or near your friend’s brother’s place, and you’re commuting almost six hours a day, and you guys did this for almost a semester?
Sobia Farooq: For a whole semester, yes.
00:14:31 Raghuram Sukumar: Wow. And you still ended up getting 4.0?
Sobia Farooq: Yes. We both ended up getting a 4.0 our first semester.
00:14:39 Raghuram Sukumar: Wow, I don’t know what to say. That’s awesome. After one semester, did your friend transfer to Tulsa Community College as well?
Sobia Farooq: Yes. We both transferred to Tulsa Community College.
00:14:55 Raghuram Sukumar: Okay. What did you guys study in the community college?
Sobia Farooq: I did my Associates in Engineering, and she was doing business administration, Associates in Business Administration.
00:15:09 Raghuram Sukumar: And the fee was cheaper than going to a university?
Sobia Farooq: Yes. Tulsa Community College, when we started out, the tuition that we were paying for a 12-hour… Because you need to have 12 credit hours for a full load, we were paying approximately $2,500 a semester versus at Oklahoma State University, for a full 12 hours, it was close to $6,000.
00:15:37 Raghuram Sukumar: Wow. It was a lot of savings for you.
Sobia Farooq: Yes, definitely.
00:15:42 Raghuram Sukumar: And you graduated with Associate degree. That was in 2005, right?
Sobia Farooq: Yes, in spring of 2005.
00:15:53 Raghuram Sukumar: Okay. How did you end up in the University of Texas at Tyler?
Sobia Farooq: When I was in my final semester at Tulsa Community College, of course, me and my friend, we were both honor roll students. We were making straight A’s every semester, and she was planning to transfer to another university in Tulsa for continuing with her Bachelor’s whereas I was contemplating where to go because the only other university that I could transfer to in Oklahoma was Oklahoma State University, and their engineering school was very expensive.
I was at a point where I was actually thinking about transferring to a business or a finance major because I didn’t think that I could afford to pay the high tuition cost at Oklahoma State University. And then one fine day, I get a letter from UT Tyler. They had apparently found my student profile because I was an honor roll student. They publish this journal or a booklet every year that has the profile of all the honor roll students. I think that’s how UT Tyler got information about me. They sent me a letter in the mail saying, “Hey, because of your good grades, you qualify for our presidential scholarship, and if you get the scholarship, you qualify for instate tuition.” I was extremely excited. I couldn’t believe it.
I remember when I first saw that letter, I kept thinking, “Is this some kind of a spam or some kind of scam that I’m getting in the mail?” I just could not believe it at all because I had never heard of Tyler. I had never been to Texas. Even though Oklahoma and Texas are neighboring states, I had never been to Texas. I didn’t know of a place called Tyler, so I looked up the university on the internet. Even after I applied, I kept thinking, “No, it’s not possible. When they get my application, they will be like…”
Because in Oklahoma, that had happened to me. I’d applied for several scholarships, and they looked at my grades, and they said, “You’re approved,” but then when they asked for further documentation and I told them that I’m an international student, they said, “I couldn’t get it,” because the requirement was that I had to be a US citizen. I thought that the same thing would happen, that I would apply, and I would get accepted, but then they would send me a disappointing letter or an email saying, “Oh, by the way, we apologize. Because you’re an international student, we cannot give you the scholarship.” To my surprise, I filled out the paperwork. I got accepted right away, and I actually got the scholarship. I was very surprised because I remember that when they gave me the scholarship, I would log into my student account every day just to check that it’s still there because I was so skeptical thinking that it’s not true.
The whole application process actually, the whole thing happened via email. The first time I came to the UT Tyler campus was when I came with all my bags and all my stuff ready to start my classes in three days. Where I was living, in Tulsa, and Tyler were almost six and a half hours apart, so I didn’t have anybody who could bring me to the campus and show me the campus before the classes started. The international student office was very helpful. They did all my paperwork. I told them that this is my situation. I cannot really come down to the campus. They made it very easy for me to do all my paperwork via email to mail me my I20, and I even actually contacted the person who was working over there—at that time, she was the adviser for international students—and told her that I’m looking for accommodation and if she knew anybody, any other female students who might be looking for accommodation. So they even helped me find, connect with a lady who was looking for a roommate and helped me find accommodation.
00:20:09 Raghuram Sukumar: Before we start talking about Texas Tyler, let’s talk about your friend. She decided that she’s going to go to a different school, and you decided you’re going to go University of Texas at Tyler, but your parents let you guys to come and study just because you’re going to be staying together with your friend and then get the degree together.
Sobia Farooq: Yes.
00:20:36 Raghuram Sukumar: How was the transition? How did your parents or your and her parents let her so that you guys can go to different places?
Sobia Farooq: For her, it was a lot easier because it was not just her. Her brother was also there. She had a form of support. For her, it was not that difficult, but she was not planning to move, so it was fine for her.
For me, the only option I had was either I give up engineering or I move. So I talked to my parents. I had to do a lot of convincing because I did not know anybody in Texas. I have no relatives over there. I did not know anyone, so I did do a lot of convincing. I told them that I really want to do engineering. I came here all the way to do engineering, and by that time, we had been here in the States for about three years. I told them that the past three years, I’ve been here. I’ve been studying. I’ve been getting good grades. I’ve been responsible. I was also working on campus while I was at Tulsa Community College, so I was actually able to earn and pay for my own living expenses and everything. So my parents saw how I had changed from when I left as a girl right out of high school to a person who saved up enough money to buy her own first car, to have a job, and to manage a full-time class. They saw that I really wanted to do this, and the only option I had was that I take the chance and move to Texas.
They agreed. They said, “Okay. If you had done it so far, we have confidence in you that you will be able to do it once and continue on with getting good grades and achieving your goal when you move to Tyler as well.” They were comfortable with me, and they finally agreed to let me move.
00:22:37 Raghuram Sukumar: So they let you move. The one thing that you mentioned is you saved enough money to buy your own car, right?
Sobia Farooq: Yes.
00:22:44 Raghuram Sukumar: Tell me about it. We didn’t touch upon that during the pre-interview.
Sobia Farooq: Because Tulsa was a small… It’s a midsized city. It’s not like New York or Chicago where the public transportation runs 24 hours. You really have to have a car to get around. Our first couple of years, almost like two, three years, me and my friend, we used public transportation to get around. The public transportation system was very slow in Tulsa. You would have to wait sometimes 45 minutes to an hour for a bus. I remember that, to get to a 10:00 in the morning class, I would leave home at 6:30 in the morning and take three buses to get to my campus even though, by car, it was only 20-minutes drive to my campus.
We both decided that, if we wanted to be able to have a… Plus, I was working on campus, so sometimes, when I would get off my on-campus, it will be 10:00 in the night, and then I would have to, sometimes, wait until like midnight for somebody to come and give me a ride home. So me and my friend decided that we have to have a car. And then I started saving little by little. Finally, I had enough money to buy a car for myself. When I bought the car, I didn’t even have a driver’s license or I knew how to drive.
I remember, when I got to… Nobody really taught me how to drive. I kind of learned it on my own. When I went for my driving test, the guy gave me the driver’s license, and then he told me, “Don’t drive on your own for the next couple of months.” I told him, I was like, “You’re giving me the driver’s license, and at the same time, you’re telling me not to drive on my own?” It wasn’t trusting, but eventually… I had a lot of bumps and scratches on those cars, on that car definitely because I was still learning, but eventually, I learned how to drive and get around. Again, my parents saw how I had picked up responsibility, so they were very comfortable.
00:24:59 Raghuram Sukumar: And probably very happy, right? That they let you come here. Now, they’re seeing you as a different person.
Sobia Farooq: Yes, definitely. Actually, that summer, right before I moved to UT Tyler, I graduated with my Associates, and that summer, I actually went back home and spent the summer with my family, and they were very surprised to see how much I had changed. They remember me when I was in Bahrain, and I just graduated from high school, and anything that I asked for I had to have it right now, whereas now, I had learned the value of money because I was earning on my own, and I wasn’t as a spoiled brat as I used to be.
00:25:46 Raghuram Sukumar: It’s actually a very good point. You can learn the value of money when you earn your own money, right?
Sobia Farooq: Yes, definitely.
00:25:56 Raghuram Sukumar: If you’re spending your parents’ money, even though you will spend… Let’s say you are studying here, when you are studying here, you are going to be more cautious about spending money, their money, while you’re in school. At the same time, when you own yourself and then when you start spending it, you know how difficult it is to earn money.
Sobia Farooq: Yes, yes. It definitely teaches you the discipline of spending because you’re earning it yourself.
00:26:27 Raghuram Sukumar: Yes. How did you come from Oklahoma to Tyler? Did you drive?
Sobia Farooq: No. Actually, my friend and her brother… We drove in my car and in my friend’s brother’s car. We load it up with all my stuff, and then we drove down. It was a six and a half hour drive, and I got to Tyler, and I actually got to share an apartment with a lady, and the apartment complex was like right next to the campus, so I could walk to class. We got here with all my stuff. I met up with her. They helped me settle in, and they just dropped me and left in a couple of hours.
It was scary and exciting because I was in a new city on my own living with someone that I had just met. Because even with my roommate, I had only talked to her and communicated with her via emails before I moved here. So the first time I saw her and the first time I talked to her was when I was there with all my stuff. It was very scary, but at the same time, I was very excited—excited about starting a new life in Tyler and finally being able to study engineering that I’ve always wanted to study.
I think a day or two days after I moved to UT Tyler, I actually found an on-campus job as well. Even before I started classes, I had an on-campus job. I was already settled in. It was things worked out.
00:28:09 Raghuram Sukumar: So you had a scholarship, you got your on-campus job within a couple of days after moving to Tyler, and now, let’s talk about academics.
Sobia Farooq: Sure.
00:28:21 Raghuram Sukumar: One of the things that surprised me is when you said you’re in Bachelor’s in Mechanical Engineering and Master’s in Mechanical Engineering. I was talking to you that not a lot of female students go into mechanical engineering.
Sobia Farooq: Yes, that’s true.
00:28:38 Raghuram Sukumar: So while you were doing your bachelor’s, were there a lot of female students in mechanical engineering?
Sobia Farooq: In my graduating class, it was me and two other female students—just the three of us. I was the only international female student, and the other two students were from Tyler. But it was just three of us.
00:29:02 Raghuram Sukumar: Okay. So this was for your master’s?
Sobia Farooq: This was for my bachelor’s.
00:29:07 Raghuram Sukumar: Okay, bachelor’s. Yes, right? You came to Tyler for your bachelor’s after your associate degree?
Sobia Farooq: Yes.
00:29:16 Raghuram Sukumar: How was your master’s degree in Tyler?
Sobia Farooq: For master’s, I was the only female student in my graduating class.
00:29:26 Raghuram Sukumar: What motivated you to choose mechanical engineering?
Sobia Farooq: Initially, I always knew that I wanted to do engineering. There was no doubts about that. When I moved to UT Tyler, I was thinking, I was kind of contemplating between either electrical or mechanical, and after I took my first circuits class, I figured out pretty fast that, “Okay, circuits are not for me.” I am the sort of person who actually likes to see things and feel things versus the circuits. It’s just [crosstalk] going through.
Raghuram Sukumar: All logic and fuzzy, right?
Sobia Farooq: I knew right away that mechanical engineering is for me. It interested me more, and plus the fact that when I did research, I found out that mechanical engineering is one of the broadest fields in engineering. And once you get a degree in mechanical engineering, you can actually branch out to a lot of other areas. I felt like it was the right choice.
00:30:35 Raghuram Sukumar: Okay. So you did mechanical engineering. That was… You came to Tyler in 2005, and you graduated with your bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering in 2007.
Sobia Farooq: Yes.
00:30:50 Raghuram Sukumar: Between bachelor’s and master’s, that’s when you traveled back to your home country?
Sobia Farooq: Yes. Between bachelor’s and master’s, 2007, I graduated with my bachelor’s in the spring semester, and that summer again, I went back home. I spent the whole summer with my family, and then I have to actually reapply for my visa because my visa was ending for my bachelor’s. I applied, took my I20 when I was going from here to UT Tyler for my master’s. I went back, reapplied for my master’s visa, and then I came back to start my master’s in fall of 2007.
00:31:31 Raghuram Sukumar: How was the visa interview the second time around?
Sobia Farooq: Second time around, they really didn’t ask me anything at all just because they already saw that I was coming from there and I’d already done my bachelor’s from the same university, and I was starting my master’s. I had documentations to show that I had a scholarship, so they really didn’t ask me a whole lot of questions. I went. She said, “Oh, you’re doing your bachelor’s over there and you’re starting with your master’s. What are you doing? When do you think you’re going to graduate?” and just two, three questions, and she was like, “Okay. You’re approved.”
Raghuram Sukumar: So not like the first time around, no 30-minute interview.
Sobia Farooq: No. No, it was very quick.
Raghuram Sukumar: Okay. So you started in master’s degree in the University of Texas at Tyler on majoring in mechanical engineering again, right?
Sobia Farooq: Yes.
Raghuram Sukumar: Okay. And you had a scholarship for your bachelor’s degree as well in Texas Tyler?
Sobia Farooq: Yes.
Raghuram Sukumar: Okay. And you had a scholarship for your master’s degree as well?
Sobia Farooq: Yes.
Raghuram Sukumar: Plus a part-time job.
Sobia Farooq: Plus a part-time job, yes.
Raghuram Sukumar: And you’re in thesis?
Sobia Farooq: I did my thesis, yes.
00:32:41 Raghuram Sukumar: Okay. Talk about your thesis project.
Sobia Farooq: At the time I started my master’s, UT Tyler had just acquired a big grant. It was called the TxAIRE Grant, and it focused on indoor air quality research. So we had a grant, and I was looking for an assistantship at that time. I got an assistantship in that lab. I actually helped out with their survey process, and it got me interested in this field, so I worked with my professor to actually write this book for my thesis.
What I did my thesis was in thermal comfort analysis with correlation to energy efficiency. As part of the thesis, I actually surveyed over 500 students in an auditorium-type classroom at UT Tyler to evaluate how comfortable they were, their thermal environment. We did measurements of temperature, and humidity, and several other parameters while they were doing the interview or they were doing the surveys. Basically, what I did was I did a comparison between the survey results, the measurements, and then I took it a step further and actually used the results from the survey to create a computational fluid dynamic models. By manipulating the temperature and humidity level, I provided recommendations of how they could make the students more comfortable in the classroom, and at the same time, save up energy cost.
00:34:27 Raghuram Sukumar: You said the thesis took about two semesters to complete or three semesters?
Sobia Farooq: It took me two semesters to write the thesis, and then I did the surveys and everything while I was taking my classes and after I got done with my classes, because I had finished all my classes for my graduate work by spring of 2009. My fall of 2009 and spring 2010 basically was focused on finishing up my thesis document.
00:35:07 Raghuram Sukumar: Okay. While you are doing thesis, you had a chance to do a presentation in a conference?
Sobia Farooq: Yes. I had applied. I had submitted… I wrote up an article on part of my thesis and submitted it for a presentation at the American Society of Mechanical Engineer Conference, and I got accepted. The university was very excited to have me present at the conference, so they paid for me to actually go to San Francisco and present there at the ASME Conference.
00:35:48 Raghuram Sukumar: Alright. Then you graduated, right? Let’s touch a little bit about the experience in your master’s degree class with your professors. There were like about 18 students in your department during that time?
Sobia Farooq: Yes. In my graduating class, we had a total of about 18 students, and because of the small class sizes, it really gave me the opportunity to have one-to-one interaction with my professors. The sort of relationship I had developed with them, with my professor, my undergraduate professor, then my graduate, I could even go and ask them for help with any of my personal problems. It became more like a family. They had become like a family for me away from home. I spent most of my time on campus. I knew everybody in my department, and everybody was always willing to go out of their way to help me out.
Because of the way the classes were set up at UT Tyler, all the students in the graduating class took the same class every semester, so we kind of had… We kind of started…Whereas in some universities, you might see one student in your class one semester, and you might never see them again. We were all taking the same classes every semester, and we all graduated at the same time. It really gave us the opportunity to bond and to learn to work together. I remember, sometimes, we will be hanging out in our engineering lab until 10:00 in the night, writing up our lab reports, and we would order pizza, and we’d be having pizza while writing. It was such a fun environment.
I think it really built on my learning experience, because as an engineer, that’s the first thing you need to know: how to work as part of a team.
00:37:52 Raghuram Sukumar: So you had a really good experience at Texas Tyler—bachelor’s, master’s.
Sobia Farooq: Yes.
00:37:57 Raghuram Sukumar: Then you graduated, and the first job was in a small firm in the city of Tyler?
Sobia Farooq: Yes. After I graduated, I was looking for a job, and I started working at a small company as a project engineer. It was a very small company. They had a total of four full-time employees. The company was owned by someone that I knew from the community, and they were just starting up their business, and they needed somebody for project management. I felt that it would be a good opportunity for me to learn while I’m looking for other jobs. So I started working for them, and then at the same time, I was applying for jobs all over the United States. Within six months after graduating, I landed a job with GE Appliances.
00:38:51 Raghuram Sukumar: Okay. Tell a little bit about the career so far. You are working as a design engineer I believe?
Sobia Farooq: Yes, I’m working as a design engineer.
00:39:02 Raghuram Sukumar: How would the things that you learned in mechanical engineering in your bachelor’s and master’s helping you in your career now?
Sobia Farooq: I think I remember my professors would say that the month that you’d learn at your one month in job equates to four years of your college education, because with your college education, you’re learning a spectrum of things, versus at your job, you might be focused on one thing.
When I first started out working here, it really gave me the opportunity to apply all the principles that I studied in my mechanical design class. Even though my master’s concentration was more in thermodynamics and heat transfer, I’ve really not done a lot in that area. I’m hoping I might get some opportunities to work in that area. Right now, mostly everything that I’m doing has built up on what I learned in mechanical design and electromechanical system design classes.
00:40:08 Raghuram Sukumar: Alright. Suddenly, you believe that the University of Texas at Tyler mechanical engineer program helped you and it’s helping you do good things in your career and job?
Sobia Farooq: Definitely! I think it helped me develop that confidence and get me where I am today. It really helped me build up. The academic program was very, very good. The professors were very supportive, and I think that, if I didn’t have that one-to-one interaction, I probably would not have learned as efficiently as I did.
00:40:47 Raghuram Sukumar: Alright. I think we pretty much covered a lot of ground, starting all the way from high school until your master’s. That’s a journey from almost year 2001, 2000 until 2014.
Sobia Farooq: Yes, a long time.
00:41:06 Raghuram Sukumar: It’s a long time. Yes, I know. Before we conclude the interview, do you have any specific messages for prospective students who want to come and study in Texas Tyler?
Sobia Farooq: I would definitely encourage them to consider UT Tyler. Tyler as a town, as a city has a lot to offer. It is a midsized, small city, so the cost of living is not very high which makes it very affordable. The community is very helpful. I’ve had experiences living in Tyler where people that I did not know at all would stop in the middle to help me out, to assist me with whatever help that I needed, so it is definitely a very helping community. Plus, the campus is really nice. It’s a small, midsized campus. The class sizes are not very big, so you get that one-to-one interaction with your professors and your classmates. Of course, there is a lot of…
UT Tyler, as a campus, has grown a lot from when I started over there to what they are, and they’re continuing to grow. Definitely, UT Tyler has a lot to offer, and also, the city of Tyler has a lot to offer.
00:42:24 Raghuram Sukumar: Alright. You briefly mentioned that you ran out of gas in your car in the middle of some place, and some stranger stopped by, took you to the gas station, and helped you.
Sobia Farooq: Yes. Like I said, Tyler is a very helpful… The people are very helpful. I mean just walking on the street, people will say hi to you that you don’t even know.
I had an incident one when it was raining, and it was late in the evening, and I ran out of gas. My car just stopped in the middle of the road, and I was lost as to what I’m going to do. And then this lady just stops by in the middle of the road, gives me a ride to the next gas station, helps me buy a can so I could fill it up with gas, and then she drops me back to my car. The gas cans are very small, so you only get like a gallon or two of gas that you can put in your car. After I put the gas in my car, I started the car and driving, and she kept following me until I got to the gas station because she wanted to make sure that I get to a gas station and I’m able to fill up gas in my car. I did not even know her. I was just surprised how much she was willing to do that for me. Especially, it was late in the night. It was like 8:00 in the night, and it was raining. For somebody to stop and do so much for you when they don’t even know you, I think it’s a very big deal. It shows the value of the people over there.
00:44:00 Raghuram Sukumar: Yes, definitely. That’s Tyler, right?
Sobia Farooq: Yes, that’s Tyler for you.
00:44:06 Raghuram Sukumar: That’s Tyler, yes. Good university, good people, low cost of living. You had scholarship, and right now, your parents should be really happy.
Sobia Farooq: They are. They are very proud of me. When I reflect back on what I was when I first came here to what I am now, these 12 years or so have really helped me build on to all the experiences. All the people I’ve known at UT Tyler and other places I’ve been have played a really major role in what I am today. So I would like to take this opportunity to thank all the people, all my professors at UT Tyler for giving me the opportunities that they did and helping me get to where I am today.
Raghuram Sukumar: Alright. One last note, you are introduced to me by Dr. Wolf. She is in grad school. She really wanted me to talk to you because you are someone with a very interesting profile, experience, and you had a very rich story to share. Definitely, thanks a lot, and good luck with your job and your future and career.
Sobia Farooq: Thank you. Same to you.