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Polygence mentor Soha guides students through engineering projects addressing environmental problems

4 minute read

Soha cannot get enough of Polygence—she’s currently mentoring four different students on a diverse array of STEM topics, and she’s always looking to take on more. A physicist and engineer with a Masters degree from Princeton, she is an expert in nuclear physics, robotics, clean energy technologies, and tech entrepreneurship, just to name a few. Soha embodies the Polygence spirit of a doer and a maker, guiding her students through projects which allow them to work hands-on with technology—her students are creating drones, solar-powered fans, autonomous robots, and Sudoku puzzle-solvers. We are so proud to have Soha as a mentor because she offers a wide variety of expertise, gracefully adapts herself to each of her students' needs, and shows a deep commitment to the joy of learning through doing.

As an undergraduate at University of Texas at Arlington, Soha studied Physics and Nuclear Engineering, and then went on to complete her Master’s degree in Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at Princeton, where her research focused on nuclear physics and robotics. Soha has high-level experience across a large swath of impressive engineering and tech fields. She loves the way that engineering is both intellectually challenging and fun, affording her the freedom and independence to create whatever she can imagine. “Lab felt like walking into a toy shop when you were a kid, filled with wonder and excitement and infinite new potential!”

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Soha cites one of her graduate advisors as her most influential mentor: “He has taught me some of the most interesting topics known to mankind: from harnessing the power of the stars (fusion energy) to understanding how nuclear weapons work; or how neutrons interact with matter and how robots can be used to search for radioactive material inside nuclear power plants…More importantly though, he has taught me the importance of staying curious, how to think about things deeply, and to question all fundamental assumptions.”

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Just like their mentor, Soha’s Polygence students aren’t afraid to think big and challenge themselves. Their projects tackle huge societal concerns, like sustainable energy and natural disasters, and have the potential for real-world impact. For example, one student is exploring the benefits of implementing solar micro-grids into low socioeconomic neighborhoods in California. “Although this project is only a framework for the purpose of implementation, I believe that it holds enough validity to merit publication on the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power website.” Another student of hers is working on developing drone technologies to locate survivors in natural disaster situations. “To start with, we’re looking at thermal imaging cameras and figuring out if there is a way to build these more cheaply than what’s on the market.”

“If my teaching philosophy could be boiled down to one word, it would be _empathy_.” Soha is careful to respect and adapt herself to the distinct interests and diverse learning styles of each of her students. “Every student is different: some are intensely passionate about one area and want to dive deep into it, learning as much as they can about this topic and creating fun solutions along the way. Other students prefer to explore around and decide later. Some students prefer to have a lot of guidance and mentorship, while others have a more independent learning style. Understanding students' unique needs and communication styles is super important, and I try to assess this as early on as possible.”

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Soha appreciates the reciprocal nature of the mentor-mentee relationship, where the benefits are mutual. “The questions my students ask challenges me to think about my own projects and research topics from a different perspective; and simplifying concepts to explain them in layman's terms is such an important communication tool to have!”

Her word of advice for prospective Polygence students is to be fearless and give themselves the freedom to experiment. “Dive into the unknown with an open mind. Not all students come in knowing exactly what they want to do, and that is okay. Our interests are constantly evolving as we learn about new things, and it is okay to be curious and explore until you find something that sticks.” It’s ok if your project isn’t fully formed from the start. All you need is to propose an idea and a first step—your curiosity and passion will guide you the rest of the way!

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