Hi my name is Taofeeq Rasaki. I’m a Junior majoring in Mechanical Engineering and minoring in Business Technology Fusion. I’m a Chicago Native and I came to USC with very little knowledge of any engineering. My high school wasn’t really focused on STEM and I barely met the Math requirements to be an engineer, so I knew I would struggle. Even with my expectations in mind, I was still completely blindsided by how tough subjects were right away.
I remember the first week of school well, because I have never been more confused by so much, so quickly. I felt like I was already falling behind my peers, who expressed how easy this was or that it was review of what they learned at their Engineering high schools. I seriously struggled with my intro to Mechanical Engineering class. The subjects seemed really hefty and the professor would go through a lot in every lecture, quickly building on each lesson making it easy to fall behind if you ever left class without understanding.
At a certain point we were two chapters passed where I understood what was happening. I felt like I had no one to reach out to, because at this point, I didn’t know any upperclassmen who had taken this class and everyone in my circle were already too busy with their own freshmen woes. Adding to the problems I faced was that I felt like I represented all black people taking on engineering. If I failed or was doing poorly it was a statement that black inner-city kids really aren’t meant to be engineers. We’re all too dumb to learn this stuff because I couldn’t learn this stuff.
It all turned around for me when I went to office hours and told the professor the truth. I explained to him that I had zero background doing any engineering. I was a great student at my high school, but it was more of humanities then anything technical. At this point of clarity, he gave me advice that I have used all throughout my time at USC. He said the first step in understanding something is to know where you started going wrong. He pointed out that choosing to be an engineer was not where I started being wrong, the point was when I stopped believing in myself and chose not to reach out.
That day he sat with me for two plus hours going through everything. From the first day of class all the way to the current chapter we were on. We did problems together and at every point he allowed me to ask questions and express my uncertainty with lessons. I finally felt like I understood the course material. All the massive waves of being afraid that I represented the black community poorly and that I shouldn’t be an engineer started to feel a whole lot weaker. I could actually see myself at the same level as my peers. Even though I had little knowledge of engineering, I could actually do this, and it all started from taking a second to understand that you can’t stop believing in yourself. No matter how hard classes become, or how lost you feel in the moment, there should always be that one constant in every equation—that you believe you can become an engineer.