Having achieved everything he set out to do five years ago, ShaQuill Thomas ’15 is looking forward to commencement. The computer engineering major from East Orange, New Jersey is eager to begin a new chapter in his life as a systems engineer at Verizon Wireless in Bedminster, New Jersey. But before that happens, he wants to make sure his Stevens journey ends on a high note.
Feeling confident that he has taken advantage of and benefited from everything that Stevens has to offer – a challenging curriculum, hands-on career exploration, committed faculty, leadership opportunities and a support network – Thomas describes his Stevens journey as both immensely satisfying and humbling.
He graduated valedictorian of his class at Essex County Vo-Tech Bloomfield (“Bloomfield Tech”) where he focused on business and technology.
“Computers and cell phones, and anything related to technology were where I shined,” says Thomas.
So when it came time to select a college, Thomas narrowed his choices to schools that would provide a strong computer and technology foundation. In doing so, he thought broadly and long-term.
“I didn’t want to be pigeon-holed into computer science or something electronic. I knew engineering was the gateway to all different kinds of technology, and computer engineering would give me that broad perspective.”
“I did a lot of research and what grabbed me the most about Stevens was the success rate of graduates right after college – where they were working, what types of jobs they were doing,” he says. “So I looked at all those things that could help me in the long run rather than take the safe route of going to a cheaper school and getting a less challenging degree.”
As a freshman, Thomas attended a workshop about one of the marquee programs at Stevens – cooperative education. While attending school, co-op students acquire real-world skills from working in paid full-time positions in their fields of study. In the process, cooperative education helps students confirm their choice of major, clarify their interests and career goals, and prepares them for the workplace upon graduation.
“I was at a point in my freshman year where I knew I wanted to be a computer engineer, but I didn’t know exactly what route to take and what kinds of jobs were out there for me. So making that decision in the spring of my freshman year to join the co-op program was the first step I took,” recalls Thomas.
His only concern about joining was the five-year time frame of cooperative education, but after working for three co-op employers (Nomura Securities, McKinsey & Company, AvePoint), Thomas says joining co-op was one of the best decisions he’s ever made.
“I can’t imagine not having those experiences to prepare myself. With jobs under my belt, knowing what I like and don’t like, the whole process of looking for full-time employment was made that much easier by the time I became a senior.”
Going into his senior year, it didn’t take long for Thomas to land his post-graduation dream job. He had an offer for a full-time position from CitiGroup, where he had completed an internship, but he wasn’t inclined to accept immediately. Verizon Wireless had come into the picture, and after phone and on-site interviews with the telecom giant, Thomas knew where he wanted to be.
“As a tech company, Verizon had all the opportunities I was looking for right after college. So once I got the job offer, I was so relieved and excited. There were a lot of emotions.”
Having a job secured post-graduation doesn’t mean Thomas is cruising through his senior year. Far from it, in fact.
Thomas and his team members are busy working on their senior design project – creating a virtual model of downtown Hoboken with simulated movements of pedestrians and motorists as they maneuver their way around the mile-square city.
“It’s an interesting project that shows human behavior and could be used one day by local and regional officials for disaster, flood and urban planning,“ describes Thomas.
Half of the 10-person team, he says, is responsible for building the actual model, while the other half, which includes Thomas, is building the social media part.
“We’re analyzing databases and making sure all the social media information can connect to the virtual model so as to provide real time information in case of an event.”
Thomas also serves as president of the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) at Stevens, an organization he joined in his sophomore year. He credits the NSBE, with programs like Success to 4.0, study jams and home hangouts, for helping him get through the academic rigors at Stevens.
“Engineering is a very demanding discipline, and there were many times that I felt I should do something easier. It’s not the same as high school. It was a lot of, ‘Can I really do this? Is it really worth it?’”
Citing the benefits of the NSBE, Thomas says the importance of being part of a network of black professionals in STEM fields cannot be underestimated.
“Workshops on leadership development, career fairs where students get internships and jobs, there are guest speakers from the STEM fields, a lot of black professionals who want to encourage collegiate members to pursue STEM careers. So that organization really changed my life for the better. It motivated me to get my B.E., be successful and help others who are pursuing a similar path.”
One inspiring individual at Stevens that struck a chord with Thomas was Mukundan Iyengar, a professor of electrical & computer engineering at Stevens, whose teaching style and career path left an indelible impression on Thomas.
“He wanted us to learn rather than strive for a grade. He would help you, mentor you, give you all the tools you need to learn the course,” recalls Thomas. “He had job offers from Google, Amazon and Yahoo. But he turned all of that down so he could teach students computer algorithms and different things in technology. It really amazed me how this person who landed a job that I would love to do wanted to teach students how to be better programmers and computer and electrical engineers. He was a great professor in my eyes.”
Fully aware of the impact role models had on his own life, Thomas embraces the opportunity to be one himself. Role models, he says, show what is possible and achievable.
“They give you a foundation, or blueprint, for success,” he says. “A lot of students who don’t have the same opportunities as I did may not know that they’re smart enough to go into the engineering field. I know that what I do now and in the future will help others and truly make a difference here at Stevens because it’s something that’s not done by a lot of people of my age and ethnicity.”
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