Alumna Shabnam Aggarwal ’03 paid a special visit on Sept. 15 to The Harker Upper School to chat with students about life after high school. Aggarwal attended Carnegie Mellon University and spent a summer in India as an intern for Microsoft. She went to work for Merrill Lynch after finishing college, then left for Cambodia to work for a self-sustaining non-governmental organization (NGO) that provides training in data entry and English language skills to disadvantaged and disabled Cambodians.
Aggarwal is preparing to begin the next stage of her career in India, where she will work on a project developing applications for lower-end mobile phones that will be used to teach English to Indians without access to important educational resources.
“It was really exciting to hear about how much they supported what I’m doing,” Aggarwal said of Harker’s interest in her recent activities. Her main goal was to communicate to students the merits of wandering off the beaten path. “Mostly what I’d really like to accomplish is just making it apparent that not following the cookie-cutter life is not the end of the world.”
After receiving her engineering degree and working with Merrill Lynch in New York, Aggarwal chose to put her expertise to humanitarian ends. “Even after I did the engineering degree I said, ‘Well, I like engineering, I’m good at it, but … I don’t want to be sitting behind a computer in Silicon Valley for the rest of my life,’” she recalled. “I really knew I wanted to go to India. I knew I wanted to be in the developing world.”
She said the idea dawned on her while training for a marathon. “You put things in perspective and you say, ‘Wait, let’s back up. Let’s look at the bigger picture. I really can do what I put my mind to, and I could accomplish something that I really cared about.’”
Aggarwal believes that people who choose to acquire engineering or other scientific degrees can still use their skills to have a positive impact on impoverished areas. “I think Harker students definitely think about the future a lot, and I’d be interested to see who’s interested in that profession in the NGO world, or even engineering, or how you can use your technology world to make a difference,” she said. “When you’re young you have that passion for it and you’re idealistic enough to think that it’s possible that we can change the world.”