Mahrukh Tauseef had just turned 14 when her parents finally acquiesced to their daughter’s tireless campaign against the future they had planned for her. As a traditional Pakistani family, they wanted her to graduate from high school but were also concerned about marriage for their eldest of three. But the bookish girl from the small town of Toba Tek Singh fought tooth and nail as a teenager to take the first steps toward her dream to study at university.
At first, Mahrukh's grandfather was the only person who lobbied for her cause. He saw the value of having educated grandchildren in a rapidly changing Pakistan. He also knew Mahrukh was different from the town’s other girls. His granddaughter had always been obsessed with books, and rebelled by trying to convince her parents to allow her to find a place of learning that would satisfy not only her academic aspirations but her social ones too.
“NYU Abu Dhabi is the crowd I’ve been looking for this entire time. I finally arrived in the perfect place. Today, racism is everywhere, in our own countries as well. But when I sit in that lab with people from all colors, we’re above that. We’re all here to learn,” she said to me taking a break from her research at NYU Abu Dhabi's Applied Interactive Multimedia lab.
Her first step toward reaching NYUAD began when her parents allowed their daughter to move six hours away to Islamabad to attend a boarding school. She transferred three years later to another school consistently considered the best in Pakistan, where she eventually fell into a satisfying routine, but still had trouble connecting with like-minded people.
“NYU Abu Dhabi is the crowd I’ve been looking for this entire time. I finally arrived in the perfect place.”
In her junior year at boarding school, the school president had told her that she wanted to nominate her to attend NYU Abu Dhabi. This had taken Mahrukh aback as she knew her parents were not keen on the idea of her going to university away from home, let alone abroad in a foreign country. She applied anyway and was accepted as one of the first in the Class of 2020.
But the early decision acceptance was bittersweet. On the one hand, she was ecstatic that she had gotten accepted. On the other, she was not sure how to broach the topic with her parents.
“When I told them at first, they were very hesitant. But then I explained ... my dad got on board and my mom quickly afterward. I think they were put at ease knowing that it was in a Muslim country, in a safe country. So, I was finally going to the place I thought I was looking for,” she said.
“I call my mom everyday, we talk all the time.”
Now, she’s doing research on creating a protocol for haptic feedback systems that allow people to interact with remote environments through touch. She wants to get into biomedical engineering or computer science and work toward getting a PhD.
Her parents are proud, and she’s finally surrounded by people who she has been looking for her entire life — a class of students keen on learning. Her parents have fully thrown their support behind her now. Her two younger brothers are following in her footsteps as the first person in her extended family to pursue a career in academia, and the education she’s receiving is trickling down to her entire town.
“I call my mom everyday, we talk all the time. She’s always asking me what I’m doing so I tell her. Then she goes to my dad and tells him the things I’m learning, This is education, right? If you can’t teach it then you don’t truly understand. That’s why I want to teach,” she said.