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The Student-Run Newspaper of Townsend Harris High School at Queens College

The Classic

The Student-Run Newspaper of Townsend Harris High School at Queens College

The Classic

From Harrisite to NASA Engineer: alum Zunayed Abdullah shares his story

Alum+Zunayed+Abdullah+talks+about+his+journey+from+THHS+to+NASA.
Image Courtesy of Zunayed Abdullah
Alum Zunayed Abdullah talks about his journey from THHS to NASA.
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From studying for AP Calculus BC exams to managing the cargo that gets sent to the International Space Station for NASA, former Harrisite Zunayed Abdullah has come a long way.

Mr. Abdullah attended Townsend Harris from 2009-2013. He went to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute from 2013-2017 for his undergraduate degree. After multiple internships and roles, he began working as the International Space Station Spacecraft Mission Manager at NASA. 

This job is pivotal to the research conducted on the International Space Station (ISS). Mr. Abdullah is a part of the Integration Office, whose “main role is to ensure that all of our commercial cargo resupply vehicles that go from Earth to the International Space Station, that all of the milestones needed to get those missions to launch, have been successfully coordinated.” Since the ISS has been manned in 2000, resupply items like food, clothing, and astronaut supplies need to be sent from Earth, and it is the Integration Office’s job to make sure that goes smoothly. Thus, his job is to “make sure for a specific cargo flight called a mission that all of the coordination between SpaceX and NASA are successfully completed,” he said.

Mr. Abdullah said he believes that the activities and classes he took at THHS fostered his interest in aerospace, eventually leading to his employment in the field. He recalled a specific moment in high school that began this journey: “I remember doing an essay on the Wright Brothers, [which] got me interested to understand how lift worked or how airplanes fly. …That kind of [sparked] me wanting to know a little bit more about aerospace.” Intending to go to a STEM-based college, he took as many math classes in high school as possible, notably AP Calculus BC. In college, he took many engineering-tailored classes. He did a plethora of internships to “use a lot of the technical knowledge I have to contribute towards whatever they’re working on, then the research.” Mr. Abdullah’s education at THHS gave him the opportunity to go into college with a good amount of credits, which let him work at NASA as an intern for a semester as opposed to a regular school semester, something he describes as “very, very, very important to me.” 

Numerous Townsend Harris Teachers were impactful on Mr. Abdullah’s career. He mentioned Mr. Scardino, who “had the most impact on me…it was more of a coming-of-age experience of just him teaching me about life after high school…so he kind of like acted as a father figure to me in that time.” He has kept contact with Mr. Scardino since graduating high school, even asking him for advice during rough points of his career. Mr. Scardino responded to this, saying, “Zunayed was the type of student you could rely on to ask questions that elevated discussions and made others think differently or at least be open to other perspectives.” 

Mr. Scardino highlighted Mr. Abdullah’s ability to be “comfortable admitting when he did not know something,” an undoubtedly important skill. Mr. Abdullah recommends being active in extracurricular activities, as he said they make a person more well-rounded. Some other teachers he mentioned were Mr. Owens, his Latin teacher, and Ms. Yan, his fencing coach.  He noted the effect that extracurriculars like fencing and Latin Club had on his life and encouraged students to follow their passions. 

“I’ve come to realize that I truly believe if you’re passionate about what you do, you will find success,” he said.  It is that passion that transformed a Harrisite into a NASA Engineer.

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