Meet three of our outstanding undergraduates in a new Q&A feature for the Engineered for Success alumni newsletter. Our inaugural interviewees are chemical engineers Ryan Dunham, Namrah Shahid and Cherell Ward-Rucker.

Cherell Ward-Rucker, Namrah Shahid and Ryan Dunham What class are you, and where are you from?

Ryan: I am a junior from Portland, Oregon, and my dad – who grew up in Tucson and graduated from the UA with a chemical engineering degree in 1982 – has established Wildcat pride in me since I was born. 

Namrah: I am a senior with a double major in aerospace engineering and chemical engineering. I am passionate about space exploration and space systems. I first got interested in space exploration when I took a trip to Johnson Space Center in Texas. Currently, I am interested in working on a mission to Mars primarily through NASA’s SLS and Orion program.

Cherell: I am a CHEE junior, originally from Phoenix, Arizona. I am involved with Engineering Ambassadors at the College of Engineering and many other organizations on campus. This semester, I am a preceptor for an engineering survival course for STEM students who live in the Cambium living and learning community

How did you choose chemical engineering?

Ryan: Because I knew that I was good at math and chemistry, and I knew that a degree in chemical engineering holds its weight on a resume and teaches you how to think critically about the world around you.

Namrah: I have a passion for chemistry. However, I like being able to apply concepts to physical systems – which is why I chose the engineering route. Additionally, chemical engineering allows me to learn more about propulsion systems, thermodynamics, and reaction engineering, which all apply in rockets and various other space systems. 

What helps you stay motivated?

Namrah: My friends and family. When classes get hard, or if I’m struggling with learning a concept or completing an assignment, my friends are always there to remind me of my goals and to take a break with me.

Cherell: Staying positive and knowing that the content that I am learning is giving me the background knowledge to help the community. What also helps is being grateful that I have the opportunity to go to college and get an education, so that after I graduate I can help others.

What has surprised you most about your college experience?

Ryan: I was most surprised by the relationships you gain with your professors. As you push farther down the road to graduation, you establish lasting friendships.

Cherell: How much I’ve learned about myself as a person. In college, I’ve recognized my strengths and weaknesses when it comes to my work ethic and my relationships with people. Because I acknowledge my weaknesses, I am even more motivated to insert myself into environments that challenge them so they can change to strengths.

Outside of the classroom, how are you gaining experience that will help your career?

Ryan: I am president of the UA chapter of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers. It has helped me develop leadership, organization and public speaking skills. Not only have I formed extremely strong friendships through this club, but I have also gained valuable connections in industry.

Namrah: I work at the Lunar Planetary Lab on the OSIRIS-REx mission with a team of engineers. My primary tasks include writing code to test image processing algorithms and testing image processing tools. I have also participated in two internships, with NASA Marshall Space Flight Center working on systems engineering verification and validation of the Space Launch System, and with MIT Lincoln Laboratory working on satellite system components. Internships have taught me what I do – and do not – like to do, and they have a strong community and allow for a lot of fun and learning.

What is most important to you outside of your school work?

Namrah: I participate in martial arts. I train in Brazilian jiujitsu, which focuses on taking your opponent to the ground, gaining dominant position and getting submissions. I love to train and compete, and it’s a huge part of my life. BJJ has taught me to believe in myself and to always keep pushing myself to learn and grow as a person.

Cherell: My family. My mom and brothers supported me emotionally this semester. They are also the people that help me stay positive and remind me of the many reasons why I want to become a chemical engineer. 


Photo: Cherell Ward-Rucker, Namrah Shahid and Ryan Dunham 

University of Arizona College of Engineering