“I don’t believe in changing yourself because everybody else doesn’t agree with who you are.”
Hadiyah Ghoghari, ’20 Computer Engineering, is an aspiring astronaut and engineer who moved to the United States a few months before President Donald Trump was elected. Raised Muslim in the Indian state of Gujarat, she was advised by her parents not to wear her hijab once she arrived at San Jose State because they were worried about threats of violence. Eighteen years old and alone in a new country, Ghoghari obliged—but only for two weeks.
“Going without my hijab, I felt what I used to feel when I was a child,” she says. “Back home, the state I am from has a history of religious conflict. Without a hijab, sometimes people assume I’m not Muslim and say things they shouldn’t. So, I prefer people knowing right away that I’m Muslim. I don’t believe in changing yourself because everybody else doesn’t agree with who you are.”
Once she saw there was an active Muslim community on campus, Ghoghari resumed wearing her hijab. A computer engineering major with a minor in physics and astronomy, she discovered her passion for all things interstellar when her mother gave her an encyclopedia of space as a child. Captivated by the images of astronauts eating ice scream in space and the possibilities of exploring uncharted territories, Ghoghari set her sights on pursuing a career at NASA. Her dream? To work as a computer engineer at mission control. At San Jose State, she sought out opportunities to fine-tune her physics, math and science skills.
As a research assistant working with Associate Professor of Physics and Astronomy Ehsan Khatami, Ghoghari has been exploring potential applications of quantum mechanics. Her research experience, coupled with an innate desire to defy gender expectations, makes her a role model for members of San Jose State’s chapter of the Society for Women Engineers (SWE).
“Being in classes where there aren’t many women can be irritating because people tend to assume that I am a token,” says Ghoghari. “If there are enough women, we can actually get past that and people listen to what we have to say.”
Ghoghari is putting words to action as SWE’s club project chair. She helps with project fundraising for fellow woman engineers and connects them to industry partners. She’s particularly excited to support an upcoming project that involves building a rocket prototype for the Base 11 Space Challenge, which offers a $1 million prize. She also tries to set a good example for her younger sister Saniyah, who joined her at SJSU two years ago.
Her desire to pursue science mirrors her journey to the U.S.. Having moved to study science, Ghoghari believes it was especially important to be herself—outspoken, engaged and full of curiosity. Growing up, she resisted convention and challenged cultural gender norms. Engineering appeals to her in part because she wants to increase representation of women and people of color in STEM.
“I’ve always been a little ambitious, wanting to do something that would be different or competitive,” Ghoghari says. “There aren’t that many women in tech and I’ve always wanted to work toward changing that.”