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Math Student Gets $40K for Notre Dame Engineering
7/26/2013

Math Student Gets $40K for Notre Dame EngineeringTwo degrees in five years sounds ambitious, doesn’t it? For Umer Khan and University of St. Thomas cooperative engineering students, this is a mathematical no-brainer. Through the Cooperative Engineering Program, students earn two majors – a Bachelor of Arts in mathematics from St. Thomas and a Bachelor of Science in the chosen engineering discipline at a partnering institution. Khan, a junior at UST, received a $40,000 scholarship for the upcoming year at University of Notre Dame.

Khan began pursuing a four-year degree in mathematics at St. Thomas and decided to make the switch to cooperative engineering. To be able to finish the program in three years, Khan had to make up a lot of courses, which included one 20-hour semester and summer courses.

“I stacked up my hours, moved on campus and it worked,” Khan said. “I had everything here and available, all of my teachers and my resources.”

He said the only way he was able to do it was with the help of Dr. Sheila Waggoner, chair of the Department of Mathematics, Computer Science and Cooperative Engineering.

“She would always tell me, ‘This is not easy, but you want to do it. If you’re going to do it, you have to have a focused mindset to make sure you get everything done,’” Khan said. “She would tell me, ‘The day you want to go watch a movie with your friends, make sure your homework is done first.’ She was right.”

His hard work paid off, and Khan finished up the first part of the program this semester.

“Math is the foundation of engineering,” Khan said. “At St. Thomas, courses are like a hybrid of disciplines – you take some math, liberal arts and engineering courses. They set you up with a math background, so when you go to an engineering college, the basic things that people are still learning, you already know it down to its roots.”

He used the example of linear algebra. It is embedded in some engineering courses at other schools, but at UST students take an entire course on the subject.

“It takes you an extra year, but you’re getting two degrees, extra experience and more depth,” Khan said. “When you go apply for a job, not only do you know your engineering really well, but you know your math too.”

Further developing his knowledge, Khan, who moved from Pakistan when he was a kid, was pleasantly surprised when he found out what “liberal arts” is and how it worked with his technical mind.

“My liberal arts classes gave me exposure to something totally different,” he said. “I went to public high school, so philosophy and theology weren’t a focus. When I came to UST and took my first philosophy class, it was like, ‘Whoa, this is something really new.’ It gave me a new way of thinking and really developed my mind.”

Khan starts the second part of the Cooperative Engineering Program at Notre Dame in the fall. UST also has cooperative agreements with Texas A&M University, University of Houston and The Catholic University of America.

With his eye on his future, he knows he doesn’t have to worry about any course-credit problems.

“Notre Dame’s advisors know St. Thomas,” Khan said. “This is a huge perk because I know that when I go there, I will finish in two years.”

He plans to study electrical engineering with a concentration in computer science or computer engineering during his two years at Notre Dame. His dream job is to work for Google or Apple as a software engineer. 

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