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My Story

The introduction I normally give at the beginning of each semester is this: Hi, I’m Shami Chideya, a third-year undergraduate at Duke University studying Mechanical Engineering with a certificate in Innovation and Entrepreneurship. If I had more time, I would probably write something more like what’s below.

I wouldn’t have expected to be where I am now, but somehow hindsight manages to reassure me that I’m in exactly the right place. In a way, it’s almost impossible to realize how everywhere you’ve been can tell so much about where you are or are going. There are a few ways to explain anything that comes to be: the who, what, where, when, why, and how. I hope by the end of my introduction, at least some parts to those questions will be more obvious.

Born in Zimbabwe and raised in California and North Carolina, I had a couple of constants in my life that kept me grounded: family, faith, culture, and my imagination. Oddly enough, though by no coincidence, most of those pillars of my life had no real tangible form, but instead encompassed the framework through which I viewed the world.

I think it’s imagination that best explains how my interests, my major, and journey at Duke came to be— and perhaps where I’ll go on from here. I didn’t start off interested in tech — I’ve always been fascinated in students who said they had a knack for building and design from an incredibly young age — instead, I loved to read. Even more than reading, I loved music. Despite moving around often, there was always a library close by, and my family always had a CD pack in the car. A good book or album has always had the ability to whisk me away on a new adventure. Even though I couldn’t (and still can’t) sing, I did that too. Playing the ivory keys on a piano helped me learn and share dialogues words didn’t encapsulate. I thought there was nothing that a book or songs couldn’t do.

In the sixth grade I watched “A Day Made of Glass” by Corning Incorporated, and my world was transformed. As silly as it sounds, I hadn’t thought of imagination lifting off of a book’s pages or going outside of a note until then. But since that moment, I haven’t stopped.

And boy, is it beautiful. If there is anything I am assured of now more than ever, it’s that the possibilities for imagination and design transcends all circumstances. I’m always excited to share that love with other people however I can.

I’ve learned so much through Mechanical Engineering, where we understand the how and why behind some of the most transformative inventions, laws, and systems that form the backbone of everyday living. Even beyond that, I have learned more about product design and how to fit a piece of imagination into something that will be convenient, useful, and impactful.

In addition to make the most out of my own imagination, I’ve always known I wanted to understand how to best share those ideas with others. In fact, as I continue to learn more about entrepreneurship through courses like Engineering Innovation, and our Keystone course, the attention spent on who to share an idea with and how to make that idea come to life matters more than the idea itself. My favorite class by far has been Building and Sustaining a Successful Enterprise through the Duke in Silicon Valley program. The hands-on experience with walking through the ideation of a venture and unprecedented access to leaders transforming tech is priceless. I’m incredibly grateful to that class for cementing my interest in learning more about design and launching a venture in the future.

Besides my classes, I had the opportunity to be a New Technologist intern with Cyborg Mobile and Microsoft, where we designed and executed a software deliverable using the Product Management tools we learned. As a fan of “learning by doing,” that program was right up my alley. The summer of my freshman year, I participated in a Duke Engage program based in Kaihura, Uganda that partnered with Bringing Hope to the Family (a fantastic local NGO) to build a bridge and be of help however we could be in the community. I am very grateful to all the friends I made in Kaihura and the memories we shared. The why for being an engineer is pretty simple: I love to imagine, and this has evolved into one of my favorite channels to do so. After sharing my background, I still have no idea where exactly I will go or precisely what is next, but it is wholly amusing to see how my hodgepodge of interests and experiences led me here. My interests still lie within product design, robotics, and tech and exploring how to bring those principles to life equitably.

I’m a strong believer in learning others’ stories to better connect with them. The one question I wish I were asked more would be: what is mine?