Senior Zoya Arshad balances classes, internship with leading wireless tech firm

Zoya Arshad

Zoya Arshad, like most UIC students, is attending her classes virtually this semester. But her internship with NuCurrent, a local wireless charging technology company, continues on in person, roughly a mile north of campus. Arshad was interviewing with the company just as the COVID-19 pandemic brought most in-person activity across the country to a halt.

“I received my offer letter the week of the lockdown; but I wasn’t even sure if they were willing to have me on board due to the pandemic,” she said.

They were. She began work in June, and with several of NuCurrent’s staffers working from home, Arshad was able to work much more closely with the remaining on-site employees.

“I learned so much,” she said. “Taking classes and working are two very different aspects. You learn so much more with your technical skills. I had little practical experience going in.”

Arshad, a senior, has known for a while that she was interested in engineering—electrical engineering in particular. She especially enjoyed an introductory course with Vahe Caliskan, a clinical associate professor, and how he talked about the field. Ultimately, she became interested in the areas of signal processing, magnetics, coding, and computer science.

This summer, the first project she worked on at NuCurrent was a wirelessly charged earbud case design for the speaker and headphone company Klipsch, one of the firms for which NuCurrent designs and licenses tech solutions.

“It is amazing to see something I worked on being released in the market—it’s a real product,” Arshad said.

NuCurrent extended Arshad’s internship into the fall, and she hopes to continue on with the fast-growing company, which has doubled its staff to 40 over the past two years. In 2019, NuCurrent was named the most innovative company in Chicago by Crain’s Chicago Business, based on the patents awarded to the firm in the previous year.

Arshad, who is an international student from Pakistan, said she chose to come to UIC when she realized what a good research program the school had.

“I figured if the school is doing so much in research, they must have really good faculty, and I was right on that,” she said. “They taught me more than course materials: how to network, how to grow in my professional skills, as well as academics.”

While Arshad is quick to credit her professors for part of her success, her professors believe her hard work speaks for itself.

One of them, Professor Danilo Erricolo, recommended Zoya for the NuCurrent internship because of her strong performance in his Introduction to Electromagnetics and Applications course. “She showed a lot of enthusiasm and interest in the course activities,” he said.

Arshad shined outside the classroom as well. She tutored at the Port Academic Center, the primary study center for student-athletes. She was a teaching assistant for one of Caliskan’s introductory courses. She participated in Project Connect, an effort to bring a diverse pool of highly motivated students to the field of microwave engineering.

Arshad is immensely grateful to her parents for helping make her educational goals possible. Her parents have not only sponsored her financially, but also supported her decision to leave Pakistan for the United States. She’s also grateful to UIC for the opportunities to grow and for awarding her an Exelon Generation Scholarship to help defray expenses.

“My parents have to be the most understanding and supportive people. I will always be thankful for them that they did this,” said Arshad, who hasn’t been able to travel home to see them in over a year.

Arshad is also keenly aware that her career path can serve as an example to other women.

“Women in engineering are not very common, especially in many areas around the world,” she said. “I’d advise anyone, any woman, to just always be strong enough to step out of the box, never limit your dreams or aspirations. Keep working hard, and you’ll end up seeing yourself getting closer to the main goal.”