KALAMAZOO, Mich.—Magreth Haji fell in love with aeronautics while flying on what was at that time the largest passenger airliner—Boeing’s 747, the world’s first “jumbo jet.” The American-made, wide-body aircraft captivated the teen, who was relocating with her family from Tanzania.
“I thought, ‘Wow! How can such a big complex machine fly with all these other people in here? How does it even get off the ground?’” she recalls. She marveled at its two-story capacity, its monstrous size, its takeoff power and its smooth overseas flight capability.
“I expressed this fascination to my mother and without doubt she gave me an idea of pursuing an engineering career,” Haji says. ”This was so huge coming from her. She has never doubted my skills or capabilities to do something I put my mind into. My parents have been in the forefront of my success. Even when they did not quite understand what I was doing in school, they kept supporting me during my falls and cheered for me during my rise.”
Today, Haji, a 2018 aerospace engineering graduate, has come full circle, given that she now works in Washington state as a propulsion engineer for The Boeing Company. She is in the midst of a 3-year rotational program that is providing her with work exposure to the company’s various engineering elements pertaining to aircraft design, improvements and repairs. Currently, much of her work involves working with airline customers and suppliers for parts servicing, design and testing to improve product quality.
When her rotation concludes, she’ll be able to choose a career preference at Boeing.
Propelled to Success
Haji’s professional path was forged at Western Michigan University, where in-depth, practical courses taught by distinguished faculty, along with membership in key student organizations, prepared her for work with the multinational corporation. In particular, mentoring, as both a receiver and a provider of it, has shaped Haji’s academic and professional experiences, an important factor that’s reflected in the recently released 2018-2019 Career Outcomes report; 71% of survey respondents for this report indicated they had a mentor who encouraged them to pursue their goals and dreams.
“Dr. Pnina Ari-Gur was very helpful to me,” Haji notes. “She offered advice about graduate school, and helped me with challenges in class and with personal challenges.” Shawn Brueshabar, who was a teaching assistant when Haji was at Western and is now a part-time faculty member, was also instrumental in assisting her, she says.
Haji joined organizations to find like-minded students who were also passionate about similar career interests and who had similar racial and ethnic heritage.
“It could be really hard being in class and being the only girl in there, let alone the only girl who is also a person of color,” she says.
Therefore, Haji joined, and became treasurer for, the Bronco African Student Association. Most African students, she points out, “are very driven. We know that if we mess up once, we can never go back to it.” She was also a member of the Society of Women Engineers, which enabled her to share her stories with other women who were undergoing the same gendered challenges. Also, she participated in Engineers Without Borders, which focused on enacting necessary projects, such as potable water accessibility, in impoverished countries throughout the world.
During her freshman and sophomore years, her tutoring of K-12 students offered them great exposure to STEM—science, technology, engineering, and math—learning.
Haji’s mentoring experiences didn’t end simply because she graduated. She now serves as a mentor to others, helping them overcome obstacles in their careers and personal lives.
“When I started going to Western Michigan University, I also joined the Women and Leadership course and I got connected to a mentor that worked at Boeing as well,” Haji explains. “She gave me really valuable advice during school and how to prepare for industry experience. That was when I learned the value that comes with having a mentor. I have been mentoring a young lady in that class this year. You never have too much information on how to prepare for your career, hence, I also believe having multiple mentors is a great thing as well.”
Haji’s mentoring even extends internationally. “Mentors offer us guidance, motivation and act as role models in our lives, and that is what I do for all of my mentees,” she continues. “Apart from Western Michigan, I also mentor high school students in Tanzania.”
“It is a great thing that technology is growing in Tanzania and I would like to inspire young minds to create more space for curiosity,” says Haji. “Curiosity helps us become more knowledgeable and better problem solvers.”
Haji says she also believes “it takes a village to reach our life goals.” Her extensive support system exemplifies this concept, and she is certain that additional assistance from other people will be necessary as she moves toward the next steps in her life.
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