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Former student-athlete finds passion and purpose in engineering

ASU Online student Kwam Kassim

Kwam Kassim is graduating with a Bachelor of Science in software engineering through ASU Online and the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering.

April 19, 2023

Editor’s note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2023 graduates.

Kwam Kassim’s love of coding inspired him to pursue his Bachelor of Science in software engineering, but it was thanks to the hard work and dedication of his mom that he was able to apply to ASU Online.

Once a high school athlete, Kassim received a football scholarship that would have enabled him to earn a four-year degree. But shortly after starting school, he realized he’d lost his passion for the sport. Withdrawing from school, he took some general education classes, worked at warehouses and call centers, and tried to discover what his true passion in life could be. 

Not long after relocating to Arizona, he discovered coding. What began out of curiosity quickly developed into a major pursuit.

“One day, I picked up coding and I just never let it go,” Kassim said. “A year passed by and I coded every day. I decided to take a real chance at engineering. I hadn’t even thought about majoring in STEM because I was afraid of the math, but I decided to take a chance and not be afraid of it.”

His mother, a driver for Uber, approached him with an opportunity: Earning his degree at ASU. 

Through the Uber Education Partnership, a tuition-coverage program for qualifying Uber drivers and eligible family members, Kassim was able to apply to ASU Online and take the first step on a whole new life path.

“She’s the reason I was able to attend ASU,” he said. “This partnership was incredibly helpful as it allowed me to focus on my studies without worrying about the financial burden of student debt. It provided me with the opportunity to pursue a great education, which I truly appreciate.”

Going back to school felt different this time around, Kassim said. Whereas before he had struggled to find a focus in school, now his educational goals were crystal clear. 

“ASU made me realize how much I love and enjoy engineering and computer science,” he said. “ASU showed me all the possibilities and how fun this field actually is, especially when you’re working on solving real-world problems. I feel so blessed and fortunate; ASU really helped transform my life in a major way.”

Graduating this spring, Kassim shared his journey and advice to other students. 

Question: What was your “aha” moment when you realized you wanted to study the field you majored in?

Answer: One day, I was pondering about my future when I stumbled upon an advertisement for coding. Out of curiosity, I decided to try it out and quickly found myself captivated by it. However, my true "aha" moment occurred when I created my first web application that assisted users with budgeting. I was so engrossed in the process that I did not even realize I had spent about 30 hours that weekend working on it, because of how much I enjoyed the process. It was then that I knew for certain that I wanted to pursue a career in software engineering. So majoring in the (computer science) software engineering field was a no-brainer. 

Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU Online — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you or changed your perspective?

A: During my time at ASU Online I was surprised to learn about the strong correlation between math and software engineering, which ultimately changed my perspective. Initially, I was taken aback by the sheer number of math classes required for a software engineering major and could not fathom why they were necessary. However, after taking a course in discrete math at ASU, I came to understand the critical role math plays in software engineering. It opened my eyes to the fact that mathematical concepts can be used to tackle complex software engineering problems, and this realization altered my perspective on the importance of math.

Q: Why did you choose ASU Online?

A: Aside from the impressive projects that ASU has spearheaded, the main reason I chose ASU Online was because of the opportunity through Uber.

Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU Online?

A: During my time at ASU Online, Professor Diego Del Blanco, who taught my database class, taught me the most important lesson. He emphasized the significance of having the ability to solve problems, even if there is limited information or assistance available. He also stressed the importance of being exposed to various technologies and having the skill to read and comprehend documentation.

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?

A: The best advice I can give those still in school would be to persevere through the difficult times. There will be moments when the workload seems overwhelming and you may feel like giving up. However, it's important to remember not to quit and to keep pushing forward, the end feels so much sweeter.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: After graduation, my first plan is to take a much-needed break to celebrate and relax. Once that's done, I'll get right back to work, focusing on side projects that I didn't have time to pursue while in school. 

Additionally, my primary focus will be my job as an engineer for Starbucks. When I first started coding, I had no idea that I’d end up here, that I’d get a job in this field, or earn two internships while at school and end up at a company like Starbucks doing real complex engineering. I’ve had a blast, ended up on an amazing team, and I take none of it for granted. I know there are plenty of people out there that would love to have this opportunity. 

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A: If I were given $40 million to address a problem on our planet, I would focus on access to clean water. Clean water is a fundamental human need yet millions of people worldwide lack access to it, which leads to widespread health problems including the spread of waterborne diseases. With $40 million, I would invest in developing sustainable technologies that could provide safe, clean drinking water to bereft communities. This would not only improve public health but also promote economic growth and social stability in those areas.

Article written for ASU Online by Margot LaNoue.

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