Women in MechSE Spotlight: Sumayyah Hussain embodies community involvement

Written by Helen Chang

Illinois offers a plethora of different career choices—even within one major. Indeed, mechanical engineering senior Sumayyah Hussain (BSME 2024) is one prominent role model within the MechSE community. Originally from Hanover Park, Illinois, Hussain is also pursuing a minor in Sustainability, Energy, and Environment through the SEE Fellows Program. She currently serves as the lead Engineering Learning Assistant (ELA) for first-year MechSE students. She devotes the majority of her time to working with the students and with other ELAs.

“Give what you got. I see people come in and make it. Utilizing all the resources given and putting in all your passions and effort where it matters will ensure your happiness–even beyond academic success!”

Sumayyah Hussain, mechanical engineering senior

Hussain also serves as president of Women in MechSE and plans events so that students can build a more focused camaraderie within MechSE. She also serves as an executive for the Muslim Student Association (MSA) and works passionately in American Sign Language (ASL) Aspire to support young learners in using ASL to communicate. ASL Aspire is a website that aims to teach STEM vocabulary in ASL to students through mini games and consistent exposure and engagement with STEM concepts.

“My priorities are in culture and religion,” said Hussain, who also enjoys reading and digital media production. “I believe you are more than what you study, so do what makes you happy.” Outside of academics, Hussain helps produce the podcasts “We the Youth,” “Pillars” and other podcasts for the Muslim Youth of North America. She’s a strong believer that doing what you love will help supplement your degree and that finding a niche within your learning journey which will help you enjoy the process.

Women in MechSE with their EOH exhibit
Women in MechSE pose with their Engineering Open House exhibit.

Because Hussain loves to connect with her culture while keeping up with academics, her average week consists of working and planning events and projects from Sunday to Friday and then resting and recovering on Saturday.

During Ramadan, Hussain’s schedule changes focus. “My day starts at 4 AM to eat and do my morning prayers,” she said. “Although it is a special time of year, I complete my classes as normal. It gets difficult sometimes because of the early wakeup time, but my religion is a large part of my life.” Her dedication serves as a great example of prioritizing beliefs on as well as day-to-day classes.

Hussain also finds joy in connecting with younger and prospective students through mentoring. As a student director for Grainger’s new student registration, she supervises student advisors who assist in class registration.

“I find that being with people helps me connect with people and allows me to feel more fulfilled,” said Hussain, who believes in guiding students toward their passions within MechSE. “Freshmen come with new energy every year, and I’m able to spend more time mentoring and helping new students. As a member in a family of educators, I have come to love teaching or advising others. I love to push people forward!”

group of students with their research poster
Sumayyah (center) and her team with their research poster.

After completing her bachelor’s degree, Hussain is interested in pursuing graduate school. “I would love to stay in the academic field,” she said. “Teaching Professor Leon Liebenberg’s ME 400 (Energy Conversion Systems) helped me foster my passion for green energy. I’m pursuing a Sustainability, Energy, and Environment minor, and I find myself asking the question: ‘Is this solution affordable for people in these countries?’”

Hussain also noted her day-to-day considerations, like the way third-world countries' citizens feel the effect of global warming—even if those countries haven’t contributed to the effect as much as first-world countries. With her extensive knowledge and education, she is working to help minorities that feel the detrimental results of the degrading climate.

Hussain believes that the university can exponentially increase its support of underrepresented groups. “One thing I want to see is the U of I continuing to build on the tools for success for underprivileged background accommodations,” she said. “People with different backgrounds bring different perspectives and may be able to help others who are feeling the same way.”

Women in MechSE at the pumpkin patch
Women in MechSE at their social outing to the pumpkin patch.

“I’ve noticed that the freshmen class has a much more diverse women community—there’s a significant increase in the the number of women in each class,” Hussain noted. She also found the most recent freshmen class to be more aware of the global role of engineering. “We are working toward providing underrepresented demographics the same opportunity to be able to obtain what they want to achieve,” she said.

“I love seeing people you’ve rooted for succeed,” she concluded. “Seeing students come in and struggle but eventually achieve the trajectory of their academics is so fulfilling.”

Outside of academics, Hussain wishes for improvements within the university in terms of accommodating Muslim culture. “I would love to see accommodations for Muslim holidays and Ramadan,” she said. “Bringing awareness to Ramadan and flexibility in schedules would be immensely helpful as well as prayer room accommodations.”

Tips for prospective students?

“I would suggest finding a community as your first priority. Engineering isn’t a one man show—support systems are really important for students in engineering. Knowing that there are people who are willing to root for you when you feel alone make every day feel lighter. Even connections you feel like you can leverage—socially and academically—are extremely important! If you feel alone, don’t give up. There is definitely someone who knows what you feel and your experiences.”

“Another thing that’s important is to be open to ask for help. This requires you to swallow your ego in a way that some people haven’t done before, but people who are constantly asking for help will be open-minded and have more opportunities to get ahead.”

Tips for rising sophomores in MechSE?

“It’s okay to mess up or drop a class! It’s okay to not get internships sometimes. It’s okay for you to not make it the first time. This is all part of the human experience. Be kind to yourself. Don’t start comparing your experiences with those of others—it might hurt the way you view your goals and yourself. Working hard looks different for everyone, and success looks different from person to person. Once you find your niche, you’ll be able to find people that will make you grow and support you–no matter where you go.”

“Give what you got. I see people come in and make it. Utilizing all the resources given and putting in all your passions and effort where it matters will ensure your happiness–even beyond academic success!”

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This story was published November 27, 2023.