Commencement 2018 Profile: Amber and Alwaleed Zia

The support of family is an integral part of any college student’s experience. In the case of Amber and Alwaleed (Al) Zia’s parents, that support meant moving the whole family from Darien, Connecticut, to Lee, Massachusetts, so that their daughter and son could commute together to and from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute daily. And together they will graduate on May 19.

“RPI offers an amazing chemical engineering program,” says Amber Zia. “I was able to achieve my full potential of becoming an engineer with the academics, professors, and resources at Rensselaer. I was able to engage with faculty and students that are intrigued, innovative, and passionate about the work and learning experience.”

The integration of business and technology is what is in demand in today’s corporate world, says Al Zia, who majored in business, management, and accounting. “I decided to come to RPI so that I could learn to integrate the use of technology to help become a resourceful professional within a business atmosphere. I’ve enjoyed interacting with people of diverse backgrounds to build dynamic relationships with engineers, scientists, architects, and business students that will last forever.”

Al took on the challenge of working at a Fortune 250 company while attending classes as a full-time student. “I’ve done this to build my level of responsibility and capability of challenging myself to become a superlative individual,” he says.

While at Rensselaer, Amber was an active member in the Chem-E Car team, which designs, tests, and optimizes a small-scale car powered and controlled by a chemical reaction. The team competes with other schools through the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE). “I have made great memories being on the team that got to nationals for the first time in RPI history, and this organization was basically where all that started for me to fully transition at RPI,” Amber says.

Both siblings credit the support of professors for helping them to succeed. Al says the strong connections he was able to make with his professors gave him insights into the “real world.” He considers Frank Wright, lecturer in the Lally School of Management, a mentor. For Amber, it was Joel Plawsky, professor and head of chemical engineering in the School of Engineering, whom she met on her first day at Rensselaer. “He made me feel like a part of the Chem-E program right away,” she says.

Outside of classes, the pair took time to perfect some new hobbies. For Al, it was ping pong. “Before coming here, I never played very well, but during my free time, I would do pick-up games with students who helped me become better at the game. It’s become a favorite hobby of mine.” For Amber, it was Frisbee.

She encourages new students to experience all that college has to offer. “A balanced life is a more healthy one, and leads to better grades in the end. Start spontaneous conversations with people—it’s much easier on a college campus than anywhere else. Always remember that you have nothing to lose.”