Convocation ‘22: Mahnoor Zia, BSc Electrical Engineering

Donna McKinnon - 06 June 2022

Facing challenges with persistence and an adventurous spirit, engineering student Mahnoor Zia finds success

For Mahnoor Zia, the journey from newly arrived student to graduate was not easy. As an international student, the financial pressures were immense, and entry into her program of choice in electrical engineering was not a given.

Through hard work and persistence, and a willingness to try new things (dodgeball anyone?), Mahnoor succeeded, and found many new friends along the way.

Congratulations Mahnoor!

What led you to pick the U of A for your studies?
Growing up in the United Arab Emirates, studying abroad was like a dream come true. I was always passionate about STEM and that led me to research the top universities in Canada. The University of Alberta was one of the top five and the programs they had to offer aligned with what I was looking for, along with the location and the culture. The engineering program at the U of A allows students to take a qualifying year where they must take a list of generalized courses and maintain a certain GPA to get into the program of their liking for the remaining three years. This offers a lot of flexibility as graduating out of high school, one can be unsure of what path to choose.

Additionally, the U of A stood out in comparison to other schools due to their high international student acceptance rate making it more welcoming.

What is one of your favourite memories from your time at the U of A?
My time at the U of A has been nothing short of spectacular. I continue to cherish the memories I’ve made during my tenure in the Faculty of Engineering. One of my most memorable memories is being part of such an outstanding institution, an institution that is respected worldwide. I still remember the feeling I got every time I walked back onto campus after summer break, I felt incredible just being part of the faculty. I feel fortunate to be in the presence of some of the most brilliant minds in our fraternity of our era. The knowledge, wisdom and experience imparted by the faculty members and my peers had enabled my thought process to soar as an engineering student. My evolution from a student to an engineer has come with knowledge, friendship, and the camaraderie I experienced from my interactions with peers and professors.

Another memory that stands out for me is a recent one. In my last semester, I took part in the Campus Cup 2021 dodgeball tournament. Since it was my last semester, I was eager to try it out knowing I have never played dodgeball in my life! You could say, I was dragged into it due to peer pressure, but I must admit, I was as excited about being part of the team. I joined the recreational league along with my friends, and my role was that of a corner. With no player experience, I went into my first game memorizing all the rules and to everyone’s surprise, I stuck around till the end of the game without getting out! This allowed my team members to have more trust in me which led to a confidence boost as I realized that though it is something I have never tried, I can do it and help the team win! Though we did not make it into the finals, the team spirit and the team bonding throughout the game and my interest in dodgeball stayed intact and it was one of the best decisions I made. What I concluded then was, no matter what you do, never limit yourself and always be open to trying out new things. You never know, you might develop a new hobby or a skill set! Though I have graduated, I will most certainly take part in Campus Cup as an alumnus in the upcoming year and relive and cherish the great moments.

Did you take on any leadership roles while you were a student?
Early on during my degree, I found out about the U of A Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Student Branch (IEEE) in the Faculty of Engineering. The purpose of the branch always motivated me to contribute but due to time constraints, I was not able to pursue it. The advent of pandemic changed the dynamic of how everything was conducted. With everything transitioning to a virtual environment, it provided me with an opportunity to take on a leadership role while working and managing a full-time course load from home. I contributed to the IEEE student branch as a co-chair from 2020-2021 and Women in Engineering Chair from 2021-2022.

As a co-chair, I worked on promoting the branch to the students by organizing technical webinars, promoting student outreach, hosting networking events for all students, providing study materials and resources to students through the IEEE portal, and communicating effectively to improve the branch dynamics. I worked with the IEEE Section Chairs throughout the Western region and actively took part in the biweekly region meetings along with my co-chair and other professionals from the industry. This was a great experience for me as I was able to share the branch’s collective ideas across successful professionals while also being able to network. As the Women in Engineering Chair, my main goal was to promote diversity for Women in STEM, while also providing assistance with the same activities as that of a co-chair.

Recently, I also took part as a student leader in “The Ritual of the Calling of an Engineer” (Iron Ring Ceremony 2022) and it was a memorable leadership experience for myself as I represented the engineering students of my assigned section.

Did you face any significant obstacles or challenges during your program?
I experienced many hardships throughout the completion of my engineering degree. As an international student, the financial component of the tuition fees and student expenses had a heavy burden on me. To get into the engineering program of my choice, I had to maintain a certain level of credits but to cover the cost of tuition for the program, I was spending a considerable amount of time working off campus to support myself. This resulted in not so stellar grades and restricted my entrance into the program until three years later. I continued to maintain a full course load and juggle effectively between my education and the 20 hours/week for employment.

The high demand of workload had an adverse effect on my health where my grades took the brunt of the decline, and I was unable to perform and deliver at an elevated level. So, I took a moment and reconfigured my approach to my goal. I kept my focus on getting into the faculty and continued to develop my skill set to better assist me. After an arduous few years, I was finally selected to join the electrical engineering program and was also offered financial assistance from the International Student Services. So, after five and a-half years of hard work and commitment, I successfully completed my program in December 2021.

My journey has enabled me to develop my skill sets; skill sets that have begun yielding great returns in what is now my professional career. I cherish my journey through the multi facets of challenges and experiences. Despite the adversities I faced, I believed in “Never Give Up” as my constant driving force that helped me overcome obstacles and have a positive outlook on life.

What advice do you have for current and future students?
Being a university student comes with a lot of ups and downs, we tend to feel overwhelmed in the process. From maintaining grades to managing the hardships that come with it, keeping our mental health in check, navigating through career goals, transitioning to various programs, volunteering and various other obstacles that are unique to each student. Whether you are currently pursuing studies or planning to always remember that at the end of it, the experience is extremely rewarding. Having short term and long term academic and career plans will motivate you throughout your university journey to work hard and never give up.

While the obstacles the current students face can be challenging, the most important and common way to handle them is time management. Having a proper schedule and a planner at the start of every week to navigate through tasks everyday and following at the end of the week to see if the tasks have been accomplished. One easy way to approach this would be to work on assignments only during the week targeting one assignment daily and then focusing on study materials during the weekend.

Lastly, don’t be afraid to try out new things. The U of A offers lots of student clubs for you to volunteer and grow your skill set and unwind your mind. This could be anything that interests you or adds into your volunteering experience and will be a great way to step out of your comfort zone. I remember trying out climbing at the Wilson Climbing Centre at the U of A and it was one of the greatest experiences I had along with taking part in Campus Cup 2021.

How do you plan on celebrating convocation?
With spring convocation around the corner, I have never been more excited. The student chapter of my life has finally come to an end! With the timing as perfect as it can be complementing the beautiful weather in Edmonton, I plan on celebrating it with my family members and closest friends by hosting a get-together in the outdoors to reminisce about my university days.

I also plan on taking a trip back to my hometown in Dubai where I grew up and then to Pakistan where I spend time with my parents and grandmother, cherishing the moments and good times.

What's next after graduation?
The first thing I am looking forward to now is not being a student anymore! After all these years, I finally have the time to step into the new chapter of my life where I can focus on becoming a successful engineer and give back to the community. With the time on my hands, I have the urge to try out new experiences that supplement my career goals and explore new business ideas. Along with fulfilling items on my bucket list and traveling the world, I plan on establishing a start-up that uses my skill sets as an electrical engineer and the years of experiences I have acquired to prevent some of the ongoing challenges in the world. Oh, and lastly, follow my dream to live by the beach someday!