Alumna takes advantage of scientific opportunities at MIT

Viviana Del Toro

Alumna Arfa Aijazi participates in a panel discussion involving former IB Diploma Candidates December 22. Aijazi now attends MIT and has opportunities to conduct research projects abroad in countries such as Brazil and England.

Grace Erard, student life editor

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Alumna Arfa Aijazi is as hard-core as a crystal formed from carbon atoms arranged in a single isometric-hexoctahedral lattice.

Aijazi, who graduated from South Lakes in 2009, is now one of the 15 most impressive students at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, according to a Business Insider list. As a Materials Science and Engineering major, she is working to optimize building design for the climate, reduced environmental impact and energy consumption, and improved comfort.

Aijazi set her sights on attending a technical school after participating in the world’s largest pre-college science fair competition, the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair.

“I went to the 2008 Intel ISEF in Atlanta, which was my junior year,” Aijazi said. “Reflecting on that experience now, I think the most lasting impact was meeting so many other people who were also interested in science and engineering, which helped me solidify that I wanted to study engineering in college and even go to a technical school.”

Her decision to enroll in MIT was determined by a variety of factors, not the least of which were its similarity to the IB Program and its abundance of undergraduate opportunities.

“My biggest draw to MIT was that it stood out among other technical schools in terms of providing a well-rounded curriculum, which is something I appreciated in IB,” Aijazi said. “Even though I was interested in the maths and sciences and wanted to pursue an engineering degree, I still liked writing and history. I was also attracted to phenomenal research that MIT professors were conducting and that there were opportunities for undergraduates to get involved.”

Aijazi took full advantage of the opportunities available to her at MIT.

“MIT has been awesome so far,” Aijazi said. “While at MIT I got involved with the student newspaper, The Tech, as a photographer and a writer for the campus life section. I’ve also been involved in the executive board of my religion’s student organization.”

However, Aijazi feels that the research projects she has worked on outside of class have influenced her college experience the most.

“I pursued research at MIT because I felt that would be a good way to explore the materials science field and develop skills that would help me in more advanced courses and internships,” Aijazi said. “At MIT, obtaining a research position is pretty informal. I browsed the websites of professors who did research in areas I was interested in and then just sent them an email asking if they had any undergraduate projects available. And if they did, I could arrange to meet with the professor to learn more about the project and if they didn’t, I could ask if there are other related research groups at MIT that they would suggest.”

As a result of her diligence, Aijazi has had many adventures both in laboratories and abroad in Brazil, England, and Tanzania.

“Within my time at MIT, I’ve worked in four completely different labs, which helped me shape my academic interests and develop new skills,” Aijazi said. “Additionally, I’ve had the opportunity to travel abroad through MIT, once to do fieldwork with a class, once while studying abroad, and once on a public service project. I’ve worked on a project to simulate the behavior of materials in the presence of a magnetic field on the computer, to test the feasibility of a new electrode material for a fuel cell, and to measure the mechanical properties of bamboo and assess its potential as a structural material.”

These experiences helped her to grow academically and personally.

“Through these projects I’ve not only learned technical content but also about what type of work environment I’m most productive in, how to prepare different types of written and oral communications, and how to organize my time,” Aijazi said. “My experience in different countries has taught me how to be flexible because the normal way of doing things in another country is not always the same as it is here in America. It’s also taught me to be creative with utilizing available resources and also to have backup plans.”

Aijazi is currently interning at Transsolar through the MIT Student/Alumni Externship program and plans to work in the building technology and architectural services industry following her graduation from MIT.

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