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Cooper Union Senior Profiles: Joya Debi

Who are you? Could you tell me about yourself?

I’m Joya. I’m also an electrical engineer and Queens born New Yorker. I come from a

large family of Bengali-Hindu immigrants and my worldview has definitely been

shaped by them and the expansive community of immigrants I grew up in. I spent the

first 7 years of my life in the most diverse zip code in NYC and then moved all

around the boroughs. I’ve gone to 7 different NYC public schools with totally

different demographics which taught me about the stratified communities that make

up NYC. This has been pretty formative to my identity and I find that to this day I

continue to push myself to keep moving and learning.

When are you graduating?

May 2023 – But I’ll be staying at Cooper to finish my Masters for about a year or two.

What is your major? And why did you choose your major?

I was originally a Chemical Engineering major and switched to Electrical Engineering for no other reason than my best friend was doing it too. I could go on forever about how majors are unnecessary boxes, but prior to choosing EE, I did not have a strong affinity to the subject at all. However, I’m glad to say that after 4 years of debugging, soldering, and staring at code I am confident I made the right decision. Through the EE curriculum at Cooper I have found a passion for math and machine learning. My ML projects have opened up opportunities for me to engage in many fields I am passionate about: public transportation, fashion design, education, agriculture, energy, and more.

Who is someone you look up to in your field? Either today or historically?

I look up to my professor Sam Keene. Cooper can be a rough place. 14+ hour

workdays where circuits blow up are unfortunately more common than not. Amongst

it all, Keene does an amazing job of keeping not just morale, but student interest high. He’s constantly pushing for more interdisciplinary classes between the

engineers and the artists and I’ve touched skills that I never would have been able to

through his Data Science for Social Good, Generative Machine Learning, and Beer

Brewing class. Shoutout Keene for keeping learning fun.

Why did you choose Cooper Union?

There were quite a few reasons. I knew I wanted to stay in the city. I also went to a

pretty small high school and very much enjoyed being able to bond with my teachers,

so a smaller sized school was ideal. I was originally between applying as an

engineering or animation major and Cooper seemed like the best place to combine

art and engineering. Finally, it was the most affordable option with the best quality of

education. I mean come on – no student loans?

What is one thing that you learned at Cooper that you didn’t expect?

Intelligence is nonsensical.

What inspires you?

Seeing concepts click in younger students. There’s nothing like witnessing an aha


What are you reading, listening to, or watching?

Currently I’m reading Blindsight by Peter Watts. I love sci-fi but I’d say this story goes

a bit further than just that. As for listening, I can only describe my music taste as

“beep boop” music, but I’ve also been listening to a lot of Brazilian Funk lately. I’ve

stopped watching shows recently, but my comfort shows are Avatar the Last

Airbender and anything from early 2000s Cartoon Network.

What do you see yourself doing in 5 years?

Who knows, life is not linear. I’d like to be a Machine Learning Engineer, or whatever

equivalent that would be in 5 years since the field is changing so rapidly, and I’d be

working in a social cause I’m interested in: public transportation, community food

security, or K-12 education. Besides that I see myself cooking a lot, maybe raising a

hive of bees, getting back into drawing comics, and becoming a strong runner and

biker again.

What are you passionate about? And what do you do in your free time to

refresh yourself?

I’m passionate about education reform and community. I spend a lot of time behind

my computer coding, so I like to refresh myself simply by turning off all my screens.

Whether that means cooking a new meal, or just sitting outside and listening, I really

value any bit of time I get to interact with the people, things, and the city I love.

Is there a question we should have asked you? And if so, what is it and what is

the answer to it?

What project or role are you most proud of? It would definitely be being the project

manager for Cooper’s Intelligent Ground Vehicle Club (CooperIGVC). We are

working on building a fully autonomous vehicle by retrofitting the GEM Polaris E2. I

love watching freshmen and sophomores learn to design PCBs, use ROS for SLAM,

employ object detection models, and write firmware for the car — and I love learning

all these things with them to fill in my own knowledge gaps.

Photo from the Cooper IGVC:

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