Interview with Shah Rifat

Rifat is an undergraduate student at SUNY Stony Brook, currently majoring in Mechanical Engineering and minoring in Computer Science. He will be pursuing his Masters at Stony Brook in an accelerated program with a potential graduation date of 2023. His passion for science is driven by his desire to work in renewable energy. Fun fact: He likes rapping. 

Can you tell me more about your major and why you chose it?

I’ve always liked physics since I was young. I liked solving problems and understanding the mechanics of the world like: why is this falling? Why is this going really slow? What is happening? I actually wanted to major in physics but when I applied to Stony Brook, I had accidentally chosen Mechanical Engineering as my major. Then, I was accepted into that major so I decided to go along with it since most of the first year classes are introductory. During finals week of my first year, in my only mechanical engineering class, I had been assigned to make a robot. I had never made a robot before but by the end, I was so enthralled by the process. Here I was, not knowing anything and within a month I am making a robot that is walking. Then I realized that, in mechanical engineering I am applying the concepts of physics rather than just learning about theories. So I decided to stay in that major for one more semester, and I’ve never looked back. 

Can you tell me more about your transition from high school to college?

Actually, I came from Bangladesh to New York halfway through High School. I started in the 11th grade so that for me was the biggest challenge because I had to make up all the regents exams and coursework. To graduate on time, I had to take all my exams in half the time. I also had to do the college applications and research all by myself. Fortunately, this really prepared me for the rigor of college. Throughout the 11th and 12th grade, I was working nonstop whether it be on essays, applications, or part-time jobs, I got used to the rigor so my transition wasn’t really that hard. It wasn’t until college that I had some more freedom. Although, the biggest challenge was leaving my home and rooming with strangers for the first time. But now, I am good friends with my roommate and others from my building. 

How was campus life as an incoming freshman?

It was very fun. In fact, my building had a lounge area where they had a pool table and ping pong so I would be there all the time. Some people would study there, watch tv, or play. There was always something to do and it was a great way to meet new people. One thing I never did was to study in my room. I always went to the library, which I found to be an effective way to study for me. I learned to balance being a student and a person so I would go out and meet new people, all while taking my grades seriously. 

What were some academic hardships you faced during college, especially during the pandemic?

Honestly, because I like meeting new people and participating in activities, I got involved in too many things. I started to have a hard time balancing my time and paying attention to my academics so my grades started to drop a little. During the pandemic, yes, nobody loves online classes but I made my peace with it because some good things came with it. I was always going, going, going and doing, doing, doing and not really knowing where I was going or what I was doing. The pandemic stopped everything for me, and I really got time to question what I really wanted to do with my life. After that, my life kind of changed. I became a vegetarian, I changed a lot of habits, I started meditating, and I opened a new startup teaching kids because I love teaching. The pandemic had a lot of blessings for me.

How have you remained motivated in school through all 4 years of undergraduate?

The main motivation for me is that if I am going to do something, I will have to do up to some standard. Whether it be planning a trivial party or preparing for the biggest exam of my life, I’ve learned that we can’t control consequences. All I can do is just try and give our best.

How did the NVPS scholarship impact your college experience?

Honestly, it was one of the biggest blessings. In high school, I was always working weekends, and I never had time for anything. Because New Visions was giving me this scholarship for tuition and other expenses, it made me worry less about having a weekend job all the time. The urge to work no longer became a necessity. It freed up my time and energy and allowed me to explore new things. It allowed me to have a better college experience where I didn’t need to decide between my academics or money. Because of New Visions, I was able to make time for the things I cared about and grow so much more as a person than being cooped up like a robot and just working. 

What are you currently working on? Do you have any post-graduate plans?

Right now, I am pursuing my Master's but I want to work in renewable energy. I am a mechanical engineer, but at the end of the day, it is just problem solving. I picked a field to specialize in but I just want to solve today’s problems. To me, the biggest problem I see is renewable energy. However, as an alternative, I would like to go into robotics because it is something I find to be very interesting. 

Do you have any advice for incoming college students?

A trivial advice I would give is time management. Please have a planner, whether it's your phone or a notebook. Plan your activities for the next day. At the end of the week, plan your activities for the following week or even have a calendar with deadlines. Most importantly, find what interests you because once you find that interest, then nobody needs to tell you to do the work. You will get excited about doing the work. Ultimately, it is never too late to look into investments. It is all about getting into the habit and learning what is best for you. 

How have you grown over the years from being a freshman to now a senior/graduate?

As a student, how I have seen myself grow is I used to think I love the small tasks. Solving that small homework or getting good grades but now I don’t care too much about the small things. I care more about the big picture where, if given a project, I get not only to think about completing the task at hand but being able to analyze the short-term and long-term effects of things. Like what are the implications of this? What benefits will come from this?