Creating the groundbreaking lodging company Airbnb, leading Pixar Animation’s photography and lighting division, and launching major programs for Google are just a few of the achievements that alumni of the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) shared with the Class of 2020 during the School’s second annual Sophomore Convocation.
On Tuesday the largest incoming class in the 10-year history of SEAS — more than 300 students — packed Hall D in the Science Center to hear words of wisdom and encouragement.
In welcoming the students, Francis J. Doyle III, the John A. Paulson Dean and John A. and Elizabeth S. Armstrong Professor of Engineering and Applied Sciences, highlighted their diversity: Class members hail from 34 countries and 42 different states, and 32 percent of them are women. Although this figure well exceeds the national average of 20 percent female, according to the American Society for Engineering Education, there is still work to be done to achieve a greater balance, Doyle noted.
Prior to a panel discussion featuring alumni from a variety of sectors, the audience was treated to one-minute “lightning talks” from current SEAS students.
“I encourage you to try an internship in the two remaining summers you have here, and use the skills you learn to enrich the greater good,” said Neel Mehta ’18, who shared his experience interning for the U.S. Census Bureau, where he used technology to make a social impact.
Highlighting her recent trip to Madagascar, Akshaya Annapragada ’20 joined a team studying the impact that vaccinating flocks of chicken had against fatal diseases, helping alter the population dynamics, and provide greater sustainable food sources and income.
“I really loved the opportunity to integrate research and fieldwork with our technical studies here at Harvard,” Annapragada said. “And I hope that as we grow as scientists and engineers, we can all find ways to work together to use what we’re learning as concentrators to answer big questions in our fields of interest.”
A panel of alumni highlighted the School activities that contributed to career success, many touching on a common theme.
“The thing I really remember the most is the people here,” said Airbnb co-founder Nathan Blecharczyk ’05. “The people are incredible. I really encourage everyone to participate in project-based, collaborative work, and hear from people with different points of view. That is really where I learned the most.”
“You have the opportunity to take advantage of top-notch engineering programs here at Harvard, but you also get to participate in so much more,” said Stephanie Kladakis ’96, vice president of research and development at Carmell Therapeutics.
“Interactions that you have with your roommates and classmates give you a broader experience than just being around fellow engineers. And for me, now leading a company, that experience has helped give me the ability to relate to all the folks on the team, not just engineers,” she added.
Daniel Nevius ’11 encouraged the sophomores to try things, and not be afraid of failure. “You will learn more by failing at something new than by succeeding at something that people succeed at every day,” he said.
To read more about the convocation, visit the SEAS website.