By Elaine Smith
Rehan Rashid has set his sights on becoming an astronaut, and the Paulina Lau Scholars Program is helping to pave his way.
Rashid, a mechanical engineering student in York University’s Lassonde School of Engineering, became fascinated by the planets as a child and learned as much about them as possible.
Eventually, the Brooklyn-born, Toronto-raised son of immigrants from Pakistan soon began dreaming of working for the United States National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and becoming the first astronaut to set foot on Mars.
“I’m 23 years old and the U.S. plans to land on Mars in the 2040s, so I’m the ideal age,” Rashid said. “I’ll try to keep my life on track and achieve my goal.”
His choice of mechanical engineering as a major was a deliberate step in his plan.
He has moved closer to his dream with two NASA internships in 2022 and another slated for summer 2023.
Rashid was working at his part-time IKEA job when he received an email informing him of his selection as 2022 paid summer intern at the NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston. The Johnson Space Center is home to NASA mission control.
Excited about his first NASA internship, he yelled out the news while working at his part-time job and received an ovation from hundreds of IKEA customers.
In Houston, as a battery systems engineering intern at the NASA Johnson Space Center, Rashid worked on lithium-ion cell performance and safety testing.
He also took advantage of the opportunities his internship presented, meeting with nine astronauts, networking with NASA employees and touring various other departments, absorbing all the information and advice he could garner.
He followed up the paid summer internship with NASA with another one, a few months later, in Fall 2022. He worked at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Virginia as a battery materials R&D chemist focusing on solid-state battery research and fabrication.
It was during this second internship that the Paulina Lau Scholars Program was a real benefit.
The program was established in 2022 by York alumni and life partners Hian Siang Chan and Paulina Lau, and their families. Through scholarships, the program supports student participation in diverse global learning opportunities.
Throughout his university career, Rashid juggled classes and part-time jobs to repay his OSAP (Ontario Student Assistance Program) funding and defray the cost of tuition. His course load is heavy when he is back at York; Rashid balances his desire to graduate on time with pursuing NASA opportunities, so he likes to get a head start on his coursework before he resumes classes.
However, NASA internships require an 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. commitment, so studying at night after a full, demanding work day seemed to be his only option. Fortunately, Rashid was named a Paulina Lau Scholar in time for his second NASA internship.
“The Paulina Lau Scholars Program significantly helped me to focus on studies for the upcoming academic semester during my Virginia internship at NASA by allowing me to quit my part-time job at a local Walmart that was a one-hour bike ride each way,” Rashid noted. “I strongly believe that the Paulina Lau Scholars Program allowed me to excel at NASA – a life changing opportunity. It has taken me closer to my dream of one day helping land the first human on Mars.”
Rashid is eager for the upcoming summer internship with NASA, his third so far. In each of his previous internships, he has been the only student from a Canadian university in a group of 20-plus interns. It is something that makes him proud, but also gives him a sense of responsibility in representing an entire nation.
After the upcoming summer internship, Rashid has one more year of courses before earning his mechanical engineering degree. The next step in his plan is to earn an MSc from MIT or Stanford in mechanical or aerospace engineering before applying for admission to the 2040 astronaut corps at NASA. After talking to astronauts, he realizes “the odds are slim,” but he has a fallback plan: working at mission control or flight control for the Mars mission.
Meanwhile, Rashid is truly appreciative of the support he has received in working toward achieving his lifelong dream.
“I will never take the sole credit for obtaining these fiercely competitive internships at NASA,” Rashid wrote in an email. “I believe it is a team effort of everyone who had supported me, especially the school and donors who have provided me the opportunity to learn and grow from these experiences. From the bottom of my heart, thank you to the donors of the Paulina Lau Scholars Program, and York University who are helping mold the next generation of scientists and engineers who will change the world.”
About the Paulina Lau Scholars Program
The Paulina Lau Scholars Program, an endowed award, was created to benefit undergraduate and graduate students travelling overseas to engage in coursework, research or internships. Preference is given to students who demonstrate financial need and are in the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies, Lassonde School of Engineering or the Faculty of Science. This scholarship program is established by York alums and life partners Hian Siang Chan and Paulina Lau and their family to inspire future generations of students to right the future. Find out more.