Alumni Spotlight: Latifah Maasarani
Tuesday, March 23, 2021
Written by: Laura D. Schumacher
Name: Latifah Maasarani
Degree pursued at Seminole State College of Florida: Associate in Arts, Photonic Science and Engineer Sub-Plan, Spring 2016
What factors played into you deciding to attend Seminole State College?
I had a more non-traditional path which led me to finish my high school diploma through a home-schooling program instead of through the high school itself. I always laugh thinking back to those few years after high school where I said I would never go to college. I wanted to be an entrepreneur and I didn’t think you needed college for that. So, I decided to start a clothing company at 18 but quickly got in over my head and thought, “Maybe I do need more education.” At the time, I wasn’t ready to go to a university because I hadn’t taken formal classes in a few years, so I started looking at other options. I was convinced to attend Seminole State by some of my friends who really enjoyed their time at Seminole State and the commercials I saw regularly on TV.
What were your steps after Seminole State?
After Seminole State College, I completed two National Science Foundation Research Experience for Undergraduates (NSF REU). In fall 2016, I began my studies at the University of Central Florida (UCF) to earn my bachelor’s degree in photonic science engineering. At UCF, I served as president for the Society of Optics Students for two consecutive years, volunteering 20 hours per week on average. Besides my courses and leadership, I worked with Ryan Gelfand’s NanoBioPhotonics Laboratory with the UCF College of Optics & Photonics (CREOL) where we worked on mostly Alzheimer’s and cancer research. Before graduating UCF, I completed a year-long internship with MKS Instruments optics division in technical marketing. In fall 2019, I began pursuing my master’s in biomedical engineering at Duke University with a focus on biophotonics. At Duke, I am staying very busy and taking on different leadership roles in the biomedical engineering department as well as through SPIE, the international society for optics and photonics.
How did your education at Seminole State help prepare you for where you are now?
When I first started at Seminole State, I followed the business degree path because my goal was to become a better entrepreneur. However, in my first year I took chemistry and was mesmerized by all the possibilities science offers for commercialization and for making a positive change in the world.Latifah Maasarani.
When I first started at Seminole State, I followed the business degree path because my goal was to become a better entrepreneur. However, in my first year I took chemistry and was mesmerized by all the possibilities science offers for commercialization and for making a positive change in the world. This realization changed my whole outlook and pointed my career path in the direction of science. It continued to build when I took the honors physics series with Dr. Sherry Savrda and Dr. Heather Edwards which allowed me to take the engineering physics and calculus courses simultaneously. The professors coordinated their lessons so that the topics supported each other which helped me understand the topics at a deeper level. The connections I made between the theoretical and physical worlds really changed how I internalized the material then and how I learn new material now. The series also had us do a group project which required an experiment, literature search and poster presentation which was my first taste of scientific research. Through the project and honors department, I was able to present my project at my first conference. That entire experience inspired and prepared me to pursue research and earn a PhD.
Who or what class was your greatest influence at Seminole State College?
Through the honors program, I did the independent study course in my last semester with Dr. Savrda. With that, I was able to do my first NSF REU the summer after I graduated from Seminole State before even starting at UCF. NSF REUs are competitive, and Seminole State, more specifically Dr. Savrda and the honors department, opened that door for me by nature of their innovative teaching methods and programs. Dr. Savrda is so intentional in her teaching, and while you are sitting in the classroom, you don’t recognize the great things she’s doing for you. When I look back at it now, I realize her lectures, homework and lab style have always stayed with me. I still solve problems the way she taught me. It had a great influence on me and will continue to be an influence on me as I move forward in my career. I have had the privilege to stay in touch with Dr. Savrda through the years and even had the opportunity to visit a few of her classes to speak with current students when I am in the area. I could not be where I am today without my experiences at Seminole State. I am very grateful that Dr. Savrda, Dr. Edwards and the honors department believed in me enough to make me believe too.
Professionally or academically, of what are you most proud?
The experiences I think about the most when someone asks me what I am proud of are my leadership positions. I feel very proud when I see my friends achieving something great and even prouder when I know that I in some way enabled or contributed to their success. That is why I’ve worked very hard to do things like fundraising $20,000 for our Society of Optics students which funded many opportunities to send students to San Francisco to attend the largest optics conference in America. This past year, I raised $11,000 to host a community event called Photonics Field Day which we were going to hold on the international day of light and unfortunately had to postpone due to the pandemic. At the end of any day when I feel down or think about giving up, I like to remember the moments where someone said I made a difference in their life and somehow that always gives me the energy to go on.
What advice do you have for current or prospective Seminole State students?
I urge you to try to see the greatness in yourself too. The worst thing you can do is to miss out on a great opportunity because you told yourself you weren’t good enough.Latifah Maasarani.
As you go on in your career, often you will look around and see how smart other people are and celebrate their greatness, but it can be hard to look in the mirror and say those things to yourself. I urge you to try to see the greatness in yourself too. The worst thing you can do is to miss out on a great opportunity because you told yourself you weren’t good enough. I originally didn’t think I should apply for the Jack Kent Cook scholarship because I didn’t think I could win. I was convinced by my mentors to apply because of the learning experience that comes from just applying, and then I won! If I had let myself believe that I wasn’t good enough, I wouldn’t have been good enough because I wouldn’t have put myself in the running. Just try! Don’t miss out on great opportunities for growth because you told yourself you were not qualified. You are qualified.
What do you like to do for fun?
For fun, I usually like to take time to relax and unwind. I have two cats who I love to spend time with. I love cooking and watching cooking shows. I like to play board games with my friends. In North Carolina, there are a lot of trails by Duke University so I love going for hikes or long walks.
Anything else you’d like to add?
Don’t be afraid to be “non-traditional.” If there is anything I have learned in my academic career so far, it is that being different is a strength not a weakness. Follow your passions, don’t let others tell you that you are not good enough, and don’t stay somewhere you’re unhappy because people have told you it is the only way you will be successful. They are wrong. Do that and the rest will truly fall in line.
Seminole State College Alumni Association: The Seminole State College Alumni Association provides benefits and services for alumni as they continue their lifelong connection with Seminole State College of Florida, providing opportunities for them to network with one another, interact with the student body and support the College. To learn more, visit the Alumni Association website.