BOYLSTON, MA–For the past 35 years, Homaira Naseem has had a rewarding career as a chemist, inventor, and community organizer. She is the Manager of Engineering Research and Development at Mexichem Specialty Compounds.
She holds four innovative patents in plastics which have earned over one billion dollars in revenue, one of which is the Smoke Guard technology, which helps save lives by containing fires in high rise buildings. The resources provided to her by mentors during her graduate education in the U.S. inspired her to provide crucial opportunities to the most vulnerable in our communities.
Her organizing and activist work is focused on refugee resettlement and youth education. She established both a program dedicated to teaching English as a Second Language and one mentoring young women at her company in Science Technology Engineering and Math (STEM).
Many years of charitable organizing and promoting civic engagement led her to become an elected National Delegate for the 2016 Democratic National Convention. In 2017, she became the first Indian-American woman elected to her hometown of Boylston’s Planning. She is excited about what she can contribute to political organizing at the local level and beyond.
Here is a Q/A with Ms. Naseem.
INDIA New England News: Tell your Readers about your work and what you enjoy most about it?
Homaira Naseem: For the past 35 years I have had a rewarding professional career as a chemist and an inventor. My kids call me a mad scientist because I have four patents on innovative designs like the Smoke Guard technology, which has helped save lives through containing fires in high rise buildings. But, what gives me the most joy is the time I have dedicated to building community service programs that provide the most vulnerable in our communities opportunities to succeed.
I often recall my early days after having immigrated to the U.S. and the mentors and resources provided to me that enriched my life. I feel that it is important to recreate those circumstances for the underprivileged. I most enjoy the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) professional development program I am creating for young women at my company. With so few women involved in STEM I want to foster an atmosphere where young women have the resources to build rewarding careers.
INE: To what charitable, community and professional groups do you belong and why?
HN: I was the co-founder and President of Aligarh University Alumni Association of New England (AAANE), the first president of Indian Muslim Relief and Charities, New England Chapter, and a volunteer for the interfaith group of Refugee Immigration Ministry. Education has played a titanic role in changing my life. Often times, providing monetary help alone is just a band-aid, whereas increasing access to education is a cure for poverty.
I decided to become involved with these organizations because each of them is dedicated to support educational opportunities to empower promising marginalized students. Through my position at AAANE, I led a program providing scholarships and mentorship to over 70 Indian students seeking higher education in the U.S.
The Worcester community has historically been comprised of refugees and immigrants. Over the past three decades I have holistically worked with Catholic Charities and Refugee Immigration Ministry to resettle refugees of multiple faiths. Then, seeing what an impact English skills make, just last year, I founded a program teaching English on a weekly basis to recently resettled refugees.
The real reward of community service is the personal growth that comes from the opportunity to learn from and interact with people of diverse backgrounds. I have become a better person because of the work I have done. It has made me humble, patient and open minded. Many years of charitable organizing and promoting civic engagement throughout the Worcester community led me to become an elected National Delegate for the Democratic National Convention in 2016. I was moved to represent my community in politics. So, I decided to run for office in my hometown of Boylston.
In 2017, I was elected to the Boylston planning board as the first Indian-American woman to serve. As a member, I make decisions about local commercial and residential land use and development. I also have overseen the regionalization of the Boylston and Berlin Elementary schools. This move has provided more resources to youth in our town. I’m excited about what I can contribute to political organizing at the local level and beyond.
INE: What are your hobbies and interests?
HN: I have a deep love and appreciation for the arts. Every year though AAANE I organize a Mushaira or poetry slam. The event features great poets from the Indian subcontinent ensuring their work can be heard by our communities here. I love to host social gatherings throughout the year at my home. I’m known for surprising family and friends by singing ghazals and playing the harmonium.
INE: In what way do you feel you have most positively influenced or served the local community or your company/organization and professional field?
HN: When I joined the Worcester community in the early 80s, I remember getting excited when I saw other Indian people. We eventually became friends and have built a community that has grown over the years. I feel I have most positively influenced my local community by cultivating future youth voices from within it and bringing visibility to our community through running for office. Additionally, my interfaith work has promoted love, understanding and allyship between people of different faiths. It has brought our communities closer.
INE: What is the most pressing issue that you believe women are facing today?
HN: The most pressing issue facing women in the US today is the gender wage gap and sexism in the hiring process. Women on average earn 80 cents to every dollar a man earns, but black women only earn 63 cents to every dollar paid to white men, and Latina women earn only 54 cents to every dollar paid to white men. This disparity has drastic intergenerational effects on families.
INE: What is your rare talent that people don’t know about?
HN: One of my talents is developing itineraries for family trips in foreign countries. I have traveled with my family all over the world, to places such as Turkey, South Africa, New Zealand, Australia, Japan, Italy, Saudi Arabia, Vietnam, Cambodia, France, England and Brussels. For example, one year all seven of us traveled to Egypt, Jordan, Israel, Palestine, and United Arab Emirates all in a span of three weeks. With limited time, I have been able to research and develop itineraries that enable my family to see the world, learn about other cultures and history, and meet new people.
INE: What are your favorite books?
HN: The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson
Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult
Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri
I liked the first two books because each resonated with the racism and bigotry that still happens in this country, and provided historical context. I liked the third book because the author reminded me of the Indian American immigrant experience. Lahiri bridged the gap and made the experience less foreign to Americans.
INE: What are your favorite quotes that motivate you or make you smile?
HN: “Any woman who understands the problems of running a home will be nearer to understanding the problems of running a country.”– Margaret Thatcher
“Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away.”– Maya Angelou
INE: Who inspires you the most?
HN: First lady, Michelle Obama! She grew up on the South Side of Chicago and came from humble beginnings. She is my role model because of her fierce dedication to advocating for healthy families, service members and their families, higher education and international girls’ education.
INE: Who is the one person you would like to meet and why?
HN: I would love to meet Jacinda Ardern, the current prime minister of New Zealand. I admire her because of her utmost compassion, kindness and love for humanity. She respects all faiths, and has the courage to speak up for marginalized people. She recognizes that there are different ways to reach the same creator, the Almighty God. She had the courage to ban assault weapons in her country in a record amount of time, something which the US has not been able to, despite the loss of so many lives.
INE: What are your core values that you try to live by?
HN: Conduct life with moderation. Think before you speak. Think positive. Give without expecting anything in return.