Year Up to Student Commencement Speaker: Puya Moghadam, BS Information Technology (‘24)

Puya Moghadam, a Year Up Boston alum, first generation college student and full-time employee at CarGurus in Cambridge, Massachusetts, is the student commencement speaker for the 2024 CPS Bachelor’s and Master’s graduation ceremony. Graduating with a bachelor’s degree in information technology, Moghadam has overcome more than most and leaned into every opportunity he earned to realize this success.

Born in Vienna, Austria to Iranian parents, he moved to California with his family at the age of six. The relocation was driven by his father’s ambition for his older sister, Tara, to attend law school in the US. However, two years after settling in California, Tara was involved in a car accident that left her in a coma for a year. She subsequently spent many years in rehabilitation in the US, resulting in a lifelong disability. As a result, Tara never pursued law school, and the family eventually returned to Austria, shifting their focus to meeting Tara’s daily physical needs.

While his family was adapting to a new normal, Moghadam, an American citizen and now 13 years old, experienced the challenges of a language barrier and cultural assimilation. Isolated and excluded by much of Austrian society as a result, he eventually found himself at a crossroads that ultimately forced him out of the education system.

“I had no German language skills at all. The teachers there never gave me a chance to learn German. They failed me from the beginning. After being expelled from three schools in three years, I felt like I had no more options. The adults around me just seemed to give up on me.”

Distressed, Moghadam decided to return to California, without his family, in search of completing his high school education. “I just told my parents I was moving back to California to figure it out.”

With reluctant consent from his parents, Moghadam boarded a plane from Vienna to Los Angeles to live with a distant cousin. He tackled enrolling in high school classes, managing bills, and embracing adult responsibilities. Amid financial instability and unfamiliar duties, he discovered newfound resilience.

“I definitely struggled and made many sacrifices, moving away from my family and living in my friend’s closet for about a year.”

These sacrifices fueled his determination to succeed. After obtaining his GED, his family asked him to move back to Austria. He lived there for three years, and just as the pandemic was in full swing, his grandmother, who lived in Boston, passed away.

When I was having a difficult time, I felt like my grandmother was really the only person who believed in me and expected me to succeed when others were convinced that I’d fail. When she died, I realized life is short and I lost the one person who believed in me. After her funeral, I committed to not disappointing her. I somehow knew that I had to become all the things she saw in me; her ‘vision of me’ is what motivated me.”

Moghadam realized he was no longer a child, and since his sister was no longer able to achieve the academic goals the family had envisioned; he knew that he needed to step up. “To me, it was clear that my role was to take charge and be the son that my family needed me to be,” he said.

Year Up

At his grandmother’s funeral in Boston, he chatted with his cousin, who had just started a new job at Year Up, a nonprofit program in Boston that focuses on providing workforce opportunities for youth development. His cousin suggested that Moghadam apply to the program, and by the end of the year, he was enrolled.

In the Year Up program, Moghadam experienced a year-long workforce development partnership program that combines hands-on skills instruction with classes and corporate internships, a program that matches students with professional mentors and a network of support that includes a stipend during training and internships. He secured a coveted internship at Facebook as an Enterprise Support Technician and he graduated with honors, earning the distinguished role of Graduation Speaker.

Going from “I don’t know if I can do it’ to ‘I can definitely do it!”

While still enrolled in Year Up, Moghadam attended a seminar by the College of Professional Studies’ about the college’s bachelor degrees and subsequently applied to the Bachelor’s Information Technology program. He was accepted, and in 2021, Moghadam joined CPS.

“I just jumped in. I knew next to nothing about computers, but I knew that IT expertise provided a solid foundation for career prospects.”

Moghadam’s CPS advisor, Shannan Lank, quickly realized that Moghadam had no intention of stopping at a bachelor’s degree. Working closely together, they crafted a strategic plan early on to enhance his profile for future law school applications.

Moghadam acknowledges the instrumental role played by Lank. He describes her as “a force of nature, supremely supportive and instrumental to [my] success at the college”.

Recognizing the importance of effective communication in the legal field, and following Lank’s advice, Moghadam committed to taking communication courses alongside his IT curriculum. This strategic decision underscored his dedication to a career that relies heavily on articulate expression.

“When I first met Puya, he was accustomed to people telling him that he couldn’t do something. It was a shock when I told him that I’d walk alongside him the entire way if that’s what it took. I know that sometimes it takes just one person to believe in them to recognize that they can succeed. Once he started on this path, his confidence soared, and there was a clear way forward; nothing was going to stand in his way. In my time working with him, I have seen him transform from someone who doubted himself to someone who believes he can achieve anything. This is a student that in five or ten years, I’m going to be able to say that I not only knew him but had the pleasure of working with him. He is the reason why CPS continues to be one of the largest colleges here at Northeastern, making significant impacts,”

“Northeastern has absolutely helped me. They have been supporting me through this process since day one,” he said.

Beyond academics, Moghadam’s unwavering passion for addressing the opportunity divide, a cause deeply personal to him, propels his vision for a future in law. Inspired by his own experiences and those of his peers, he envisions leveraging his network from Northeastern to drive meaningful change. “I want to utilize Northeastern and my connections to help close the opportunity divide so that we can continue to help others like myself,” he said.

After graduation, Moghadam plans to sit for the LSATs and weigh his options.

“I’ve realized that the world is not just black and white. You don’t have to be this cookie-cutter image of the typical student. Trust me, if you put your head down, you’ll do well. And if you really commit to that practice, the world is your oyster”

Emerging research reveals the blurred lines between humans and technology

Using cutting-edge data and analysis, this new book shares the impact of our rapidly growing digitized society.

These new insights into human behavior are just some of the examples coming out of a recently published book detailing the impact of our digitized society. In the increasingly blurred lines between our engagement via technology versus in person, surprising insights are starting to emerge about the power of both language and medium to predict behavior and outcomes.

Northeastern University’s College of Professional Studies Associate Dean of Research, Francesca Grippa, is the co-editor of a recently published book on social computing. The Handbook of Social Computing reveals the intricate patterns of interaction between individuals, machines, and organizations.

Grippa, an expert in digital collaboration tools, human computer interaction and social network analysis, is on the frontlines of research that seeks to explore the shifting landscape of our relationship with technology.

In this most recently published book, she collaborated with a global network of peers from MIT, University of Perugia (Italy) and Kozminski University (Poland).

“The impact of our digitized society on social behavior is accelerating as we adopt new technologies across all areas of our lives,” Grippa said. “We must study the effects of human-machine interaction as they happen in order to comprehend the gains, losses, biases introduced, and the influence on decision-making processes.”

Francesca Grippa

The book covers computer science, AI, sociology, and psychology, exploring social computing from all angles. Delving into social networks, algorithmic decision-making, ethical implications of AI, data privacy, and more, The Handbook showcases how digital technologies can analyze social behavior, interaction patterns, and enhance daily life, making it essential for students, scholars, and professionals in the field of human dynamics and social network analysis.

An IT Career 20 Years in the Making

Carla Porter ’19 started in information technology as a network administrator. “I was in love,” she said about her new field.  Hear about her journey to a Bachelor of Science in Information Technology degree and the support she received along the way.  She is now a cloud/web solutions engineer at a financial firm.

Hear her inspiring story below: