Hard Work Pays Off
From the moment he and his family immigrated to New York from tropical Guyana, arriving in a blizzard in 1994, Ryan Jaipaul – New York City College of Technology’s 2011 salutatorian, or student with the second highest grade point average – knew he had to work.
“Growing up I didn’t see my parents,” he says. “One worked in the afternoons, one at night. Everyone was busy. My family instilled in me that hard work, determination and making education a top priority were the keys to becoming successful in this country. I was not praised or promised new toys if I received good grades; it was just what was expected of me.”
Jaipaul initially became interested in engineering at Brooklyn Technical High School and enrolled at the City College of New York’s Grove School of Engineering. A turning point came in a second-year robotics engineering class. Assigned to program a robot to do a task, he directed it to use a toothbrush to clean his sneakers.
“That was my first experience dealing with computers and I was intrigued by the computer technology components of my engineering courses,” he says. “I saw how rapidly the technology changed. I knew I wanted to change my focus from engineering to technology to be part of a fast-changing field.”
An older cousin, who had landed a job with Panasonic after majoring in electrical engineering technology at City Tech, told him about the college. “He said that City Tech prepares students for entering the job market right away by providing hands-on experience.” So Jaipaul transferred to work toward a bachelor’s degree in computer systems technology.
A second turning point arose during his first semester there. His technical writing teacher, assistant professor Reneta Lansiquot, mentioned a research opportunity at Columbia University's NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies (NASA GISS). It was spearheaded by City Tech physics associate professor Reginald Blake, who also directs the college’s Black Male Initiative (BMI) program, in which Jaipaul participated as an honors scholar.
“At the time, I was working to pay tuition,” says Jaipaul, who received a Peter F. Vallone Scholarship and a National Science Foundation Scholarship in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (S-STEM). “But I thought this opportunity might lead to bigger things, so I volunteered to participate.”
At NASA GISS, Jaipaul worked with two other City Tech students to assess global climate change impacts on cities including Athens, Dakar, Delhi, Harare, Kingston, London, Melbourne, New York, Sao Paulo, Shanghai, Tokyo and Toronto. “This was my first research experience, and I worked with Columbia University graduate school mentors and Professor Blake at every meeting,” Jaipaul says. He later published a research paper in City Tech Writer, which features students’ writing. “Doing research at Columbia motivated me to do a lot of other projects that broadened my experience,” says Jaipaul.
Jaipaul was one of 10 CUNY students chosen for the National Science Foundation Research Experiences for Undergraduates (NSF REU) program, which Blake also directs. At City College’s Optical Remote Sensing Lab, they used satellite and remote sensors to study atmospheric aerosols in the northeastern United States, including factory emissions from New Jersey. Their goal was to ascertain if New York City was being unfairly blamed for pollution coming from elsewhere. He presented his research at national conferences at Howard University, Princeton and the University of Texas. As a participant in City Tech’s Technology Bridge Program, Jaipaul interned at the Goldman Sachs investment banking firm. That is leading to a full-time job as an application developer in its equities trading division that begins soon after graduation.
“When I started college, I thought I just had to make A’s,” reflects Jaipaul, whose grade point average of 3.951 out of a possible 4.0 earned him the departmental award for the computer systems technology major. “But I realized that getting high grades isn't enough. While I needed a job to pay the bills, I also needed to participate in extracurricular activities, both to achieve my goals and to give back to help others achieve theirs.” Jaipaul currently works with City Tech’s Black Male Initiative and its Science and Technology Scholars Program to mentor students, and this past year was a first-year learning community peer advisor.
To his fellow graduates, Jaipaul says, “Don’t look at this graduation ceremony as a farewell. This is the beginning of your career, your future. Take your experiences here and use them to your benefit, as a stepping-stone for what you will encounter in the future. The sky’s the limit.”