During Immigrant Heritage Month, San Jose State University will be telling stories of our students, faculty, staff and alumni who have unique and inspiring immigrant narratives to share. In addition, we will be highlighting our research, scholarship and creative activities that enhance our understanding of immigration and the contributions of immigrant populations to the fabric of SJSU’s campus community and society at large.
Maliha Williamson, ’04 BS, ’11 MS, Chemical Engineering moved to Oakland from Pakistan in 1991.
“My parents decided to move for a better opportunity for their children and we made full use of that,” she said.
The SJSU alumna prides herself on being the first woman engineer in her family and notes that her older sister is a dermatologist with her own practice in Avon, Conn. and her brother Mohsin Waqar, ’06 Mechanical Engineering, is also a Spartan. After completing his degree at SJSU went on to pursue his masters in Mechanical Engineering with an emphasis in Robotics at Georgia Tech University, and is now a Servo Control Manager in Advanced Mechatronics Group at Applied Materials and
When the family first arrived, Williamson said they were not without their struggles. Her father opened a video store, and although business was good, he had to work 12-hour shifts. She and her mom would help after school in the shop, to relieve him for an hour or two.
“I would take my textbooks along and still remember spreading them out on the main checkout counter,” she said. “The customers would appreciate a little 11-year-old girl making the best of her time.”
She said she learned about running a business and customer relations. When she was admitted to SJSU and decided to major in chemical engineering, she stepped away from the family business to focus on her studies. She counts her college years as some of the best in her life.
“I even came back and got my master’s at SJSU because I loved it that much,” she said.
Still, one of her greatest challenges came in 2003, when Williamson’s mother was diagnosed with Stage 4 ovarian cancer. She was faced with the decision of continuing her education or being there for her mom. She considered her mom her greatest strength, and even wrote an essay on her in her freshman year at SJSU titled “An Angel By My Side.”
“I almost decided to take some time off, not knowing how much time I had with my mom,” she said. “But my advisor and mentor Dr. Melanie McNeil was really there for me and made me think about dropping out. I decided to stick it through and am thankful to her to this day.”
Williamson’s mom also wanted her to complete her education and didn’t want her illness get in the way of her daughter’s dreams. Her mom went through seven chemotherapy treatments over the next four years and eventually lost her battle to ovarian cancer on December 13, 2007.
Williamson went on to complete her master’s at SJSU and has had a successful career. Today Williamson is working as a technical sales engineer at Heatcraft Refrigeration, one of the largest manufacturer of Commercial Refrigeration in the U.S and was the best salesperson for the Southwest region Sales Team in 2018.
Spartans, reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to share your immigrant heritage stories.