Combining Energy and Leadership Programs to Make an Impact
AbdurRehman Rashid, ME’20, energy systems, and certificate in engineering leadership, knew early on that he wanted to make the world a better place through engineering. Growing up in Pakistan, at 18 he moved to Medford, Massachusetts, to attend Tufts University for his undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering, which he completed in 2016. After working for a year at Prysm Systems in Concord, Massachusetts, he began applying to master’s programs.
Academia was out of the question as a career path for Rashid. He knew that he wanted to perform hands-on work in the field. “In short, Northeastern’s co-op program was one of the main factors for why I wanted to come here,” he said. “And then the second thing was the opportunity to bundle in the Gordon Engineering Leadership Program.”
The Gordon Institute of Engineering Leadership offers master’s level engineering students interdisciplinary coursework that focuses on preparing participants for successful careers. “I would call it leadership skills, learning how to interact in the field, how to get projects done, how to mobilize people, how to inspire people, how to resolve conflicts, how to manage projects. We were also required to learn basic scientific principles, like basic physics and chemistry that goes behind each of the engineering disciplines. The idea behind it was that if at any point in the future, you’re in a room and leading a team of multi-dimensional engineers from all different fields, you need to be able to understand some basic concepts from each of those engineering field areas—electrical, mechanical, civil, computer science, etc,” Rashid said.
Prior to attending Northeastern, Rashid was interested in pursuing an MBA. Considering how much he’s learned in the Gordon program, he now believes that it would be redundant.
After completing his co-op at InnoSepra, a renewable natural gas production company, Rashid joined another company that produces catalytic systems to remove harmful organic compounds from the air generated by household products such as wood lacquers, cookware, plastics, and construction material.
At the beginning, Rashid and his team explored how to channel air through a catalyst and convert harmful organic compounds in the air into harmless compounds like carbon dioxide and water vapor. Then, the pandemic started, and they decided to shift their focus. “The idea was that by adjusting a few parameters in our product, we could also target any pathogens that may pass over the catalyst, especially viral compounds, which would be denatured and rendered useless in the process,” Rashid said.
The Gordon Institute requires students to complete a project in the industry during the duration of the program. Rashid’s project aimed to make residential and office settings safer from pathogens. “I was focused on designing a prototype that would be used to simulate an indoor office or residential air filter system. It would pull in air with a fan and pass it over a catalyst, remove harmful organic compounds and pathogens in the air, and send clean air back out.” Ideally, this device would be about the size of a typical humidifier, he said.
While Rashid still works in fluid filtration, after graduation he transitioned from air purification to water purification as a project engineer at CrossTek Membrane Technology. “During industrial processes, a lot of water is used for manufacturing, machining, and chemical treatments. That water gets mixed with toxic chemicals, metal parts, shards, inorganic pieces, oils, and grease,” Rashid said. “We have a few different processes—ultrafiltration, nanofiltration, reverse osmosis—each providing an increasing level of filtration in terms of molecular size that helps to remove waste from the wastewater.”
According to Rashid, water salvaged from raw wastewater through these processes can be reused in factories. Therefore, these heavy industries don’t need to draw as much water from city utilities, saving fresh water resources and saving the businesses millions of dollars.
Rashid said that his career priorities moving forward are working in a hands-on field and supporting sustainable development. “I came to Northeastern for the energy systems master’s program because I wanted to focus on renewable energy primarily. By the time I graduated, I was looking for highly focused renewable energy jobs. I was looking at wind energy companies and solar deployment companies. But as I went along in the job search process, I realized that most of the work was going to be computer-based. For example, designing a solar system on the computer but not being able to install it. There’s not much field work involved.”
Rashid believes that he has found his niche in the water treatment industry and that he made the right choice in choosing this field over others. “They’re cleaning up large amounts of wastewater that is being generated at an industrial scale. It fit right into my goals of working towards environmental sustainability and being impactful for a brighter future.”