“Rutgers–Camden has a very special place in my heart,” says Azka Ahmed, a student who is part of the Engineering Transfer Program who recently finished her two years at Rutgers–Camden and will transfer to the School of Engineering this fall. “I hope for my experience at New Brunswick to be as great as that as Rutgers–Camden.”
Two years ago, Azka arrived from Pakistan to study at Rutgers–Camden. Though learning to live independently without a network of family nearby has not been easy, Azka says the benefits far outweigh the challenges. “I believe my move to the United States for college has served as an excellent transition into adulthood. One of the greatest rewards of being an international student is the sense of confidence and courage I have acquired,” she says. Azka has helped other international students adjust to life in the United States and on campus as an International Student Ambassador.
This newly acquired confidence and courage led Azka, an Honors College student with a perfect 4.0 grade point average, to try new things, such as a political science honors seminar called “Hip Hop and American Political Thought,” taught by former Rutgers–Camden professor Dr. Michael Fortner. Though Azka had no prior interest or knowledge in this topic, she took a chance and enrolled in the course. Fascinated by the idea of analyzing hip hop through American political ideology, the course ended up being her favorite class at Rutgers-Camden, and inspired her to pursue a minor in political science, in addition to her biomedical engineering major.
Azka chose biomedical engineering as her major because it combined two of her great passions – biology and mathematics. As she explains, biomedical engineers are involved in a range of jobs, from designing medical devices to creating organs for transplants. In keeping with her future career goals, Azka has long been interested in serving those suffering from illness. As a high school student in Pakistan, Azka volunteered at Dar Ul Sukun, a facility that provided shelter and support to the mentally and physically disabled, and at The Children’s Cancer Hospital, where she spent time with patients and their families, and contributed to fundraising efforts. At first Azka volunteered as a way to spend time with her friends, but “it transformed into something meaningful and crucial in my life. It was a humbling experience; one that made me realize how little it takes to bring a smile to someone’s face.”
At Rutgers–Camden, Azka has continued her commitment to civic engagement. She has volunteered at TeenSHARP and local neighborhood parks, and worked in conjunction with Mary Rizzo, an associate of the Mid-Atlantic Regional Center for the Humanities (MARCH) and co-editor of The Public Historian, on the Center for Environmental Transformation (CFET) Walking Tour Project. Last semester, Azka participated in a ten-day service trip to Guatemala as part of the course “Health and Healing in Guatemala.” While there, Azka and her fellow students helped the local people construct stoves, and also educated them about different health topics, such as proper nutrition. This trip served as a motivating force for Azka, and she plans to participate in more international community service programs in the future. “I see such programs as an excellent opportunity to view and experience the struggles of the underprivileged. It helps serve as a reminder of how blessed I am,” she says.
Azka continues her service to those in need by way of the laboratory. After taking the course Introduction to Scientific Computing with Dr. Luca Larini, Assistant Professor of Physics, Azka became interested in his research and started work as a paid research assistant for him, running molecular dynamics simulations and analyzing the results for a project which studies the aggregation of tau protein in Alzheimer’s disease. The goal of the project is to understand why the tau protein behaves differently in the brains of patients with Alzheimer’s disease, and to ultimately contribute to the research being conducted across the globe with the aim of curing this disease.
This research opportunity has exposed Azka to new worlds, both figuratively and literally. Not only has serving as a research assistant given her a taste of what her life would be like as a biomedical engineer, but it has given her the opportunity to present her team’s research at CECAM’s Physics of Protein Assembly Workshop, in Switzerland. Her research experience also allowed her to be one of only twenty-five students, chosen out of 125 applicants across the globe, to take part in a summer program on atomistic simulations in Trieste, Italy.
As Azka takes the next step on her path and leaves for New Brunswick, we know that just as Rutgers–Camden has left an indelible stamp on her heart, she has left a mark on our campus, as well. Azka is sure to do great things, and we’re proud to have been part of her journey.
About Azka Ahmed
Major: Biomedical Engineering (Azka is a member of the Engineering Transfer Program)
Minor: Political Science
Hometown: Karachi, Pakistan
Written By Julie Roncinske