Follow Your Passion: Motto Guides Stevens Computer Engineering Student, NSBE President ShaQuill Thomas

5/20/2013

The recurring theme of ShaQuill Thomas’ life journey is simple but effective.

“I just follow my passion,” Thomas said.

This mantra was what led Thomas, valedictorian of his high school graduating class at Essex County Vocational School in Bloomfield, N.J., to Stevens Institute of Technology. His lifelong dream of working for Google inspired a love of computers and business, and Stevens offered him the opportunity to study both of those concurrently. In addition, Thomas found the unique Bachelor of Engineering degree, the diverse clubs and organizations, and the campus setting all very appealing. The city of Hoboken played a part too, as Thomas liked the idea of exploring the social and cultural aspects of Stevens’ hometown.

“It was everything I wanted,” he said. “Between the Hoboken community and the Stevens community, it’s almost perfect. I know that sounds corny. But it does feel like home here in my heart.”

During his three years at Stevens, Thomas has taken full advantage of his second home. The Computer Engineering major is also focusing on Information Systems Security, his minor. He is a Cooperative Education student who has already completed two professional work assignments and is looking forward to his next. He is actively involved in many of the clubs and organizations that originally caught his eye, including the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE), the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), Phi Beta Lambda business society, the Black Student Union, Gear and Triangle student leadership society, and Alpha Phi Omega service fraternity.

“I didn’t really believe it when I heard that there’s something for everyone at Stevens – but it’s true!” Thomas said. “You come in as a freshman and find your place. The community on campus is so supportive, and you never encounter any negativity. The opportunities are so diverse. You really get to be yourself here.”

Thomas’ participation in organizations on campus has provided him with a variety of leadership and professional opportunities. Drawn to the mission of NSBE, which unites and supports the personal and professional development of black engineering students on campus, Thomas was extremely active in the organization his freshman year and will soon begin his second term as the chapter’s president.

His election – and the understanding that other members of the society see him as a trustworthy and respected leader – will always be a standout moment to Thomas. Through NSBE, he has gained extensive leadership experience, attended national conferences, participated in workshops that have helped him learn professional skills, and been introduced to a wide network of people – including some contacts at Google, his dream employer.

Thomas’ leadership on campus doesn’t stop there. This past year he also served as vice president for IEEE and Phi Beta Lambda, and was treasurer for NSBE his sophomore year. He was recently named the sub-committee head for professional societies, through which he’ll act as the student liaison between the Student Government Association and the student-run professional organizations at Stevens.

Professionally, Thomas is using his passion to gain new and increasing levels of skill through each co-op assignment to position himself as the ideal candidate for his ultimate career goal.

Channeling his passion landed him his first co-op assignment, where he worked as a mobility solutions engineer at Nomura. His first-ever job experience, Thomas said learning a completely new language (JAVA) was incredibly challenging but he takes pride in knowing he started a project and saw it all the way through on his own. In spite of the learning curve, Thomas saw what he wanted and went for it.

“I didn’t think I was qualified for the Nomura assignment, but the co-op office encouraged me to apply because of my passion for smartphones,” he said. “During the interview I was asked about my programming skills, and, being completely candid, I ranked myself 3 out of 10. Despite having other candidates with more experience, the interviewer saw my passion and gave me a chance. I took the opportunity and worked hard, gained experience and proved myself, and from there acquired the skills needed to secure my next co-op assignment.”

His next co-op was a systems engineering intern at McKinsey & Company. There, he worked on the backend of smartphone security, conducting tests and software updates, analyzing data, and preparing reports. While the experiences were different, they afforded learning and growth opportunities. Both assignments gave Thomas hands-on experience and allowed him to see projects through.

Now, Thomas is taking his professional growth into his own hands. He is specifically searching for an opportunity that allows him to get into web development and mobile app development. He also plans to take some classes this summer to stay ahead of his studies, as he hopes to work toward a master’s degree in Systems Engineering.

Each step is another one closer to where he hopes to be in the future.

“Follow your passion and explore each opportunity,” Thomas emphasizes. “I came into Stevens with a passion – for Google and thus computer engineering – I saw what I wanted to do and because of that I have pursued opportunities and opened myself up to things that allow me to get closer to my goal. Everything I do is about following my passion and using it to get where I want to be.”