UCLA Alumna Shares Journey to Thrive in Western Culture While Retaining Pride in Asian Heritage

Riyya Hari Iyer

Courtesy of Riyya Hari Iyer

May 24, 2024

UCLA Samueli Newsroom

As an international student, Riyya Hari Iyer M.S. ’21 traveled from India to the United States in 2019 in search of an advanced degree at the forefront of the tech world. 

Today, the electrical and computer engineering master’s graduate is a software engineer in the semiconductor industry, working at the Fremont, California branch of Massachusetts-based automation solutions provider Brooks Automation. 

But it wasn’t all smooth sailing for Iyer, who fought hard for the American Dream.

“I have faced hurdles and setbacks at every stage of my journey,” Iyer said. “There have been numerous times when things spiraled out of control for me, and being an immigrant in America comes with its fair share of challenges as well.”

Iyer recounted her initial difficulty coping with a different education system compared to what she was used to in India. From her experience, she learned that it’s important for international students and those building a career outside their home country to get outside their comfort zones.

“Overall, I would say to accept that every country has its own culture, and it is important to adapt to another country’s culture while retaining your own,” she said.

Thanks to her supportive parents and grandparents, Iyer and her younger sister were free to follow their dreams despite growing up in a middle-class family in New Delhi.

“My family and my relatives have always been very supportive of my career and aspirations,” Iyer said. “They have always encouraged me to do well in school and focus on my career, and I’m grateful for that because it gave me the freedom to pursue what I have always wanted.”

As an avid movie lover, Iyer also remembered the impact that the Bollywood film“3 Idiots” had on her, as she deeply resonated with its message of prioritizing self-improvement over chasing success.

She was drawn to learning new things from an early age, especially those that require logic. Math was one of her favorite subjects in school, and after discovering her school’s robotics club in 10th grade, Iyer decided to study engineering.

“The thing that I’m the proudest of in my career isn’t a publication or an award. It’s my resilience. It’s my spirit of not backing down in the face of a challenge and fighting every obstacle that comes my way,” said Riyya Hari Iyer.

With her sights set, Iyer took up physics, chemistry and mathematics in 11th grade while preparing for entrance examinations for engineering colleges. She was admitted to the Indira Gandhi Delhi Technical University for Women in Delhi where she majored in electronics and communication engineering. Determined to make her mark, Iyer excelled in her studies and took on a yearlong research project that led to the publication of her paper on an Android app-controlled multipurpose robot designed with versatile functionalities and cost efficiency in mind. At a conference attended by mostly doctoral students, Iyer was the youngest presenter recognized for her invention.

Outside of class, Iyer decided she wanted to help her community by volunteering to teach children English, Hindi and social studies.

“I am a person who cares about social justice, and it absolutely breaks my heart to see the disparity in the lives of people,” Iyer said. “Education is absolutely important as it empowers you. I’ve had the privilege of education, so I wanted to do my part in giving back to society.” 

Iyer knew she wanted to pursue a master’s degree in the U.S. after college to work with cutting-edge technology. She said she was drawn to the UCLA Samueli School of Engineering for its world-renowned professors and the variety of project-based courses that could help hone her skill set. She opted for the electrical and computer engineering program because of her interest in embedded systems and the Internet of Things during her undergraduate education. 

“The courses at UCLA dealt with the latest technology and that helped me broaden my skill set as I branched out to learn about artificial intelligence, app development and more,” she said. Iyer also enjoyed her time as a teaching assistant, having the opportunity to not only impart knowledge but also to inspire her students.

It has been three years since Iyer graduated and started working at Brooks Automation, where she plays a pivotal role in developing and refining code to enhance the functionality of semiconductor product lines. Her contributions to the company and the broader industry have not gone unnoticed, earning her prestigious accolades including the International Achievers’ Award by the Indian Achievers’ Forum in 2023 for her achievements over the years.

Iyer said the most rewarding part of her job is the opportunity to continuously learn and grow while having a tangible impact. 

“The thing that I’m the proudest of in my career isn’t a publication or an award. It’s my resilience. It’s my spirit of not backing down in the face of a challenge and fighting every obstacle that comes my way,” she said. 

Looking ahead, Iyer dreams of starting her own company, determined to use her resilience to find success as an entrepreneur. 

“I’m aware that an entrepreneur’s journey is full of challenges too, and so I hope that my spirit of perseverance remains with me and that I’m able to turn every setback into an opportunity.” 

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