Class of 2023: With the spirit of a grandpa she never knew, Maisha Mahmood excels in the ‘guilty pleasure’ of math and computer science

VCU student from Bangladesh embraces generational connections and the sacrifice of her family to pursue her education.

Maisha Mahmood
Maisha Mahmood graduates this semester with a bachelor’s degree in computer science with a concentration in software engineering, and a minor in mathematics. (Tom Kojcsich, Enterprise Marketing and Communication)

By Leila Ugincius

Maisha Mahmood never met her grandfather, but he still had a profound impact on her life.

“He passed away even before I was born, but I’ve heard lots of stories about him,” she said. “My grandpa — Dada Bhai — was a math whiz. He could solve 10th-grade math problems when he was only in sixth grade. He was the first engineer in our family and was loved by everyone for being kind and helpful.

“Even though I never got to meet him, the stories about my grandpa inspired me a lot. I always wanted to be a smart, kind and hardworking person like him.”

And Mahmood was thrilled when her family told her she was good at math, just like her grandfather. “I know people call me weird for this, but math is kind of like my guilty pleasure,” she said.

The comparison with her grandfather ignited her passion to pursue math or engineering – and at Virginia Commonwealth University, she has done both. Mahmood graduates this semester with a bachelor’s degree in computer science with a concentration in software engineering, and a minor in mathematics.

In 2021, the international student moved to Virginia from Dhaka, Bangladesh, with her parents, who relocated to a new country so she could pursue her dream.

“I always dreamed of coming to the U.S. for college, believing it would offer more opportunities for me,” Mahmood said. “I specifically focused on colleges in Virginia because I had relatives living here. That’s when I discovered VCU. I still remember searching for campus pictures and sharing them with my mom. We both instantly fell in love with it.”

A cousin who had attended VCU spoke highly of the diverse campus and the support of professors. It was especially appealing that the Department of Computer Science was part of the College of Engineering, while the discipline is often grouped with the humanities and sciences at other schools.

“I am more than happy to say that VCU has been everything I had imagined it to be,” Mahmood said. “The moment I set foot on campus, I fell in love with its charm and atmosphere.”

She noted that since her first semester, Caroline Budwell, Ph.D., undergraduate director of the Department of Computer Science, has been a source of support.

“To me, she is more than just a professor – she is a guardian who has consistently motivated me to give my best, regardless of the challenges,” Mahmood said.

Among her many excellent professors, she also said Ahmet Sonmez, Ph.D., associate professor of computer science, “is another remarkable figure I’m fortunate to have met during my time here. Working closely with him showed me how dedicated he is to his work, and he’s always been inspiring.”

At VCU, Mahmood founded two student organizations – the Web Development Club (WebRams) as well as the Data Science Club – and tutored at VCU’s Campus Learning Center. She also was an e-board officer for the Society of Women Engineers for two consecutive academic years and was president of the CS Student Advisory Board for the 2022-23 year. And she worked at the VCU Natural Language Processing Lab under Bridget McInnes, Ph.D., associate professor of computer science, and participated in the Dean’s Undergraduate Research Initiative in 2022.

Mahmood considers herself “someone who thinks you should always take advantage of the opportunities that life throws at you.” And as her mother, inspired by Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore, would tell her, “Wherever you see ash, sift through it, and perhaps you might find a precious gem within it!”

Mahmood served a Bank of America internship during her VCU studies, and it has led to a full-time position as a software engineer, which she starts shortly after graduation.

“My time at VCU has given me more than I could have asked for, and I wouldn’t change a thing,” she said. “VCU provided me with the college experience I always dreamed of as a teenager, and I’m really grateful to everyone who made it possible. I aspire to be a person capable of giving back to the VCU community and offering my parents the happiness they truly deserve.”