Sahara Aden '15

SJA graduate discovers passion for engineering

Sahara Aden

Published September 2015

While Sahara Aden, recent SJA graduate from the class of 2015, is sitting in the hall of the Milwaukee School of Engineering (MSOE) Campus Center, she shouts out occasional greetings to passing students, including her SJA and MSOE classmate Fabiola Garcia, ’15, as well as two new friends. It’s only the third week of classes at MSOE, but Aden has been hard at work getting to know her classmates and professors. Openness, positivity, and a willingness to ask for help are themes in Aden’s life; these values have carried her from refugee camps in Kenya to an underwritten education in Electrical Engineering at MSOE, Milwaukee’s premiere engineering university.

Aden’s path to success has required self-advocacy and a willingness to ask for help. She was born in a refugee camp in Kenya, and immigrated with her mother and siblings to the United States in 2003 at the age of six. Her educational opportunities while in Kenya were limited.

“Education was scarce. I used to sneak into the adult schools and they would kick me out,” recalled Aden. “But they started letting me stay, and I would teach the adults the alphabet after I had learned it.”

Aden looked forward to the chance to live and learn in the United States. As she and her family acculturated to America, she began to focus on how she could be successful through the pursuit of an education.

“I had this dream of being in a classroom – the opportunity to have an education was exciting to me,” said Aden.

At Aden’s middle school, Story School, former faculty and ongoing SJA supporter Jim Basil suggested to her that she would be successful at SJA. However, gaining support from Aden’s family proved difficult.

“My parents did not go to school so I had to let them know the effects of education on my life and on theirs as well,” she said. Aden’s choice to attend SJA opened her eyes to a whole new world and set her on the path to MSOE.

“I remember being in Ms. Cindy McLinn’s Digital Electronics course thinking ‘the engineering world really exists,’” said Aden. She was able to deepen her understanding of engineering through McLinn’s adaptive teaching style.

“Ms. McLinn knew how to teach me – I learn best through one-on-one work where I can have that moment of understanding,” she said.

Digital Electronics continued to be a source of inspiration for Aden.

“I like breaking down things and putting them back together. I like hands-on experiences – that wakes me up,” she said. Her hands-on coursework at SJA helped her discover her passion for electrical engineering. She also participated as a STEMbassador in SJA’s Girls in Engineering Fair, which hosts area 8th-grade girls and teaches them about their opportunities in engineering.

“Participating in the engineering fairs influenced me to want to teach younger girls in engineering and give them the same hands-on experiences that helped me,” said Aden.

Throughout her time at SJA, Aden’s skills and confidence grew. Although she was afraid of math before working with Ms. Bonnie Best, Aden’s favorite memory from SJA is from her math class.

“Standing in front of a board and having the confidence to actually map out a math problem and solve it is something I will never forget,” said Aden. “That guidance from teachers, like Ms. McLinn and Ms. Best helped me make better choices.” It also helped her in a time of great need.

Aden suffered through poverty at home, and it was especially difficult during her Junior and Senior years of high school. Self-advocacy and asking for help again resurfaced as themes in her life as she reached out to faculty for support.

“Getting to know the faculty outside of school was important,” said Aden. “They have helped me survive in challenging times, and without the help of others, I don’t feel I would be where I am today.”

As Aden transitions into her Electrical Engineering major at MSOE, she reflects on what she’s proud of and what she’s excited for in her future. She’s most proud of the fact that she’s the first in her family to go to college.

“I don’t know any women from my culture who have pursued a career in engineering…or men for that matter,” said Aden.

She’s also proud of how far she has come since her freshman year at SJA.

“I don’t think I would have been an engineer if I didn’t go to SJA,” said Aden. “The academic preparation provided by SJA has given me an edge. I feel prepared for the discipline required in college and I’m probably ahead of some students who have never taken Project Lead the Way classes.”

Aden is also proud of the work she put into getting her tuition covered this year by scholarships and financial aid; this process was helped along by SJA’s ongoing partnership with MSOE, which matches MSOE’s tuition to SJA’s for SJA graduates – a discount of more than $28,000. Thanks to the financial aid she has secured, Aden said, “I just have to learn!”

Her focus right now is on learning with an open mind, living her life with respect towards others, and continuing to ask for help whenever she needs it so that she can be successful.

When asked what her future holds, Aden said, “I want to become an electrical engineer and be in management and build a hotel back home. But most importantly, I want to give back and build a school for girls."