P.C. Rossin College of
Engineering and Applied Science
Through her advocacy work with the U.N., bioengineer and Honors Convocation speaker Maryam Khan '19 has seized the opportunity to succeed beyond the classroom

She had to read the email twice.

The department chairs of the P.C. Rossin College of Engineering and Applied Science had nominated her to speak at the 40th Honors Convocation on April 5. The event celebrates the achievements of juniors and seniors with a cumulative grade point average of 3.6 or higher, and features one student speaker from each of the university’s three undergraduate colleges.

“I was shocked,” says Maryam Khan ’19.

And humbled. Khan had pursued so many things during her time at Lehigh, taken on so many responsibilities and roles and activities and her professors were saying that it all mattered. She was a bioengineer with a double minor in computer science and economics. A United Nations Youth Representative and a student with a 3.97 GPA. She had helped doctors help patients in clinics in Pakistan. Spoken at the United Nations in the General Assembly about being a woman in STEM.

It had been four years of hard work. And if the days were longer, she would have gladly crammed in more of it.

“Lehigh has so much to offer, and you’re paying so much to come to college, that I think it’s a waste to just attend classes and call it a day,” she says. “The facilities and opportunities that we have here, I don’t think they’re going to be presented to me at any other time in the future. And you have a big safety net here, too, so there’s no reason to not go out and experiment. Sometimes you’ll fail, and sometimes you’ll succeed, and you don’t know where that will take you.”  

For Khan, succeeding as a United Nations Youth Representative meant first fighting off the voice in her head. The one that said, Hey, this isn’t really part of your class and it’s okay if you don’t want to do it. She was 19 and out of her comfort zone when she first started talking to officials and delegates on behalf of an Australia-based NGO called CLAN.

Caring & Living as Neighbors, or CLAN, is dedicated to improving the lives of children living with chronic health conditions in resource-poor countries like Pakistan. As a U.N. Youth Representative for CLAN, Khan—who is Pakistani—spent her winter and summer breaks in Pakistan helping the organization improve its cultural understanding, serving as a liaison between patients and doctors, and translating health documents into Urdu. She also helped CLAN fundraise and raise awareness of childhood diseases in the country by talking to government officials and dignitaries, and representing the NGO on various U.N. platforms in New York City.

“I didn’t know what I was getting into,” she says. “ When I started meeting with all these high officials and delegates, I really had to force myself to put myself out there. But it was equally important for me to go through the process and learn from it.”

Today, it’s the first experience she chooses to exemplify in why she chose Lehigh.

“What drew me here was the school’s approach to challenging students outside of the classroom. I served as a United Nations Youth Representative. I got to speak at the International Day of Women and Girls in Science in the U.N.’s General Assembly. You never expect to do these things when you walk into college, but Lehigh has these hidden potentials for you to unlock and explore. And it was all applicable to what I was doing.”

And what she was doing was ensuring that she becomes the kind of person who makes an impact. A bioengineer on the pharmaceutical track who also codes and understands the market. Who can analyze the human body from a mathematical perspective and build a model for any problem, whether it’s related to bones or manufacturing. Who plans to apply data science techniques to hastening drug development so more people can get life-changing treatments, sooner. Who has the “soft” skills—passed on from her role model, her mom—that help her connect and relate.

The kind of person who will work hard and deliver a thoughtful speech on April 5, with lots of eye contact and so much poise you’ll swear she didn’t bring notes.

Story by Christine Fennessy, Staff Writer, P.C. Rossin College of Engineering and Applied Science

Maryam Khan ’19
You never expect to do these things when you walk into college, but Lehigh has these hidden potentials for you to unlock and explore.
Maryam Khan ’19, bioengineer and Honors Convocation speaker