Aliza Khan could literally go to the moon.
At least that’s what James Gibbons, Computer Numerical Control (CNC) Instructor at Polk State Corporate College, believes. Currently in the CNC Machining course at Polk State, Khan, 18, has been turning heads since the day she arrived.
“The machines we work with are very large and can be intimidating and she’s not intimidated in the slightest,” Gibbons said. “Her understanding of our cartesian coordinate movement as well as the radials just came instantly. Watching her smile while she does this is really a treat.”
Finding a passion
Khan first took an interest in engineering and machining as a dual enrollment student at Lake Wales High School. She already has Engineering Technology Support Specialist, Manufacturing Skills Standard Council (MSSC), and SolidWorks certifications from Polk State College.
“During my high school career, I got a passion for CNC courses,” Khan explained. “Once I got into this program, I learned the mechanical part of it. CNC machining is all about programming and letting the machine do the work. Learning the manual side is so much more hands-on. I love getting to know what’s going on and the logical reason why.”
With parents from Guyana, Khan is a first-generation American. She drives 40 minutes from Poinciana each day to Polk State College’s Clear Springs Advanced Technology Center (ATC). The high-intensity, eight-week course readies students for in-demand, high-paying careers.
“My parents are very supportive,” she said. “They’re happy I found a passion.”
An early accomplishment
In June, Khan traveled to Michigan where she was awarded the Dr. Irving Pressley McPhail Endowed Scholarship. The $5,000 renewable scholarship is annually presented by the Society of Manufacturing Engineers (SME) Education Foundation to students who may be women, of color, or both, graduating high school and entering the engineering technology field. Khan also had the opportunity to speak at the SME gala where she was presented.
“The experience was amazing,” Khan recalled. “I was able to meet and network with so many people, including the president of the SME company. The networking experience was the best part.
“Engineering in general is a male-dominated career path,” she continued. “To be colored and a woman and to be able to make a breakthrough, I want to be a role model for others.”
Lending a helping hand
Since discovering her passion for engineering and machining as a high school student, Khan has become a mainstay at ATC. This summer, she was among more than 36 local high school students to take part in a CNC boot camp funded by a grant through America’s Cutting Edge (ACE). Having already been familiar with CNC Machining, Khan served as somewhat of a mentor to the other students.
“It was nice to see people come to the boot camp and see what CNC is all about,” she explained. “They got to see how you tell the machine to do a task and then the machine carries it out. It’s nice to see people’s faces light up when they understood something.”
Despite being one of the younger students in the CNC program, Khan has also been a help to her peers.
“She’s excellent at assisting fellow students with their troubles,” Gibbons noted. “If she sees someone struggling, she takes a few extra minutes to make sure she can help them see a different viewpoint and work them through the problem. She understands that education, on an individual basis, is very different. Sometimes it takes several stabs to get somewhere with someone and she’s willing to put forth the effort.”
“What stands out about Aliza as a student is how dedicated she is to the program and how willing she is to learn about everything when it comes to CNC,” said student Christian Moreno, who works at Chalmers & Kubeck in Mulberry as a manual machinist. “She’s shown incredible growth since the class first started. I’ve been able to learn a ton from her.”
A program of success
Polk State’s CNC Machining Program has a proven track record for success with greater than a 90% job placement rate. It’s not uncommon for graduates to finish on a Friday and begin their new career the following Monday.
“This is a rigorous program. It’s all about your goals that keep you going,” Khan noted. “What stands out about the program is I get to interact with the students and see how they articulate the aspects of what they’re given. It’s nice to be able to help others and to get help from them as well. Everyone is really nice.”
During the programs, students are able to learn to use multiple modern top-of-the-line machines. Polk State Corporate College has more than a dozen local partners that often hire graduates, including many with U.S. Department of Defense contracts.
“What stands out about this program is how in-depth it is,” Moreno added. “Professor Gibb is an incredible teacher. He takes the time to break things down and makes sure everyone understands even if we all work at different speeds.”
Once Khan completes the CNC Machining Program, she plans on enrolling in CNC Programming at Polk State. That’s also an eight-week course. It allows students to become certified CNC programmers following completion.
“She has a hunger for knowledge in the industry and has shown a ton of talent when it comes to understanding the machining,” Moreno said. “She will go very far in this industry. I can’t wait to read some paper in the future about how she did something extraordinary.”
When she arrived at Polk State, Khan was unsure of whether she wanted to be a CNC machinist or a biological engineer. Gibbons said her potential is limitless.
“Her engineering skill, her acumen on the machines, her learning curve is like a wall – it’s just vertical,” he said. “I don’t believe she’ll find a limit in her life.”
Despite graduating from Lake Wales High School in May, she is just 13 credits from earning her Associate in Science in Engineering Technology from Polk State. She holds a stellar 3.9 grade-point average.
“We’re lucky to have her here,” Gibbons continued. “She’s extremely bright and articulate, and has an immediate grasp of the topic at hand. Her learning skills are very acute. She understands the process of machining intuitively. She’s adept at taking simple instructions and turning them into advanced processes.”
For her success, Khan credits her faith. She’s an active member of her Haines City church, Greater Vision Freewill Baptist Church.
“God has got me this far,” Khan explained. “I wouldn’t be where I am without him. He has planned my every step. I really cannot say this enough.”
After earning two CNC certifications and her AA from Polk State, Khan plans on entering the workforce before continuing her education. She, however, has her eyes set on Rochester Institute of Technology as a potential destination to complete her bachelor’s degree.
“Aliza is the kindest person – driven,” Gibbons said. “I hate to use the term, but she really is a unicorn. She’s just a fabulous individual.”