On May 18, in front of a packed Hearst Greek Theatre, Saddiq Nuru (M.Eng.’14 CEE) took the stage to deliver the graduate student commencement address. Nuru is only 21, but given his upbringing, he already has a unique vantage point. Born in Botswana, he attended secondary school in Nigeria, and then moved to New York City to attend Manhattan College.
He was attracted to engineering for two reasons. “I moved a lot when I was a kid, traveling from place to place because my dad was a diplomat,” he says. “The one thing that stayed constant was numbers. No matter where I went, one was one and two was two, so numbers were sort of my home.”
Beyond the quantitative appeal, Nuru likes the real-world application of engineering, civil engineering in particular. “I’ve always been interested in getting people out of poverty, and I looked at different disciplines, such as political science, economics; and it was mostly talk and little action. So I came to engineering because engineers make tangible things.”
Once Nuru realized the kind of capital that engineering projects require, he became interested in financial instruments and public-private partnerships. He then discovered the Fung Institute, which is designed to teach leadership in engineering.
“I hope to be an engineering leader who understands how to talk to people and help them use their money in a practical way, while at the same time alleviating poverty.”
This summer, Nuru will be in Washington, D.C., working with a team of friends to create a Yelp-like service for small businesses, initially targeting Nigeria, Africa’s largest economy.
“In Africa, a lot of people are deprived of the opportunity to expand their business because they don’t have an online presence,” Nuru says. “By starting such a business, I will give them a presence online that opens them up to more customers.” He adds, “I’ve got that entrepreneurship bug: I was that nine-year-old selling sweets for pocket money.”
In August, Nuru plans to join the Hilti Corporation, an international construction equipment manufacturer, envisioning someday gaining enough skills to return to Africa and start his own business or spearheading the company’s efforts in Africa.
Regardless of the future, Nuru’s past, his vantage point, remains fixed. “Growing up middle class in Botswana, I could see people die in poverty. I knew some of those kids, I played with them, and they are smart and talented but haven’t had the privilege or opportunity that I had,” he says. “That spurred me to even out the playing field. This also resonates at Berkeley, where people fight for equality.”
“I am sure I am not alone when I say I have experienced moments of doubt as to whether I was worthy enough to be here,” Nuru said at commencement. “And yet, here we are, ready to tackle the world as Berkeley graduates.”