Like father, like son: Khans simultaneously earn master’s degrees at Auburn University

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One of the proudest moments in a parent’s life is seeing their child walk across the stage at graduation.

For the Khan family, that graduation pride is a two-way street. Muhammad Ajmal Khan, and his son, Abdul Rehman, will each receive master’s degrees from Auburn University when they walk across the stage on May 7 at spring commencement—and it was their shared passion for education and classic cars that helped see one another across the finish line.

The Khan family moved to North America from Pakistan after Abdul graduated high school. He went to study at McGill University in Montreal, Canada, while his parents moved to Montgomery, Alabama, to pursue a business opportunity in the construction industry.

After earning a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering, the same degree his father earned at university in Pakistan in 1992, Abdul began the search for a graduate program that would fit his interests. After some coaxing from his father, he agreed to explore Auburn University, just up the road from his parents’ new home in Montgomery.

“I was looking for grad school options, and my dad said, ‘Why don’t you come down south and, you know, come here?’ So, I came down to Auburn from Montreal a couple of times, visited the university, saw the opportunities here and really liked it,” Abdul said.

Abdul enrolled in the Samuel Ginn College of Engineering’s Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering’s master’s program working under the advisement of Assistant Professor Jia Liu and Associate Professor Gregory Harris at the Interdisciplinary Center for Advanced Manufacturing Systems. It took just two semesters before he was able to convince his father to join him and pursue his own graduate degree ambitions.

Muhammad enrolled in the McWhorter School of Building Science in Auburn’s College of Architecture, Design and Construction, pursuing a Master of Building Construction working with Associate Professor Keith Rahn. As the owner of his own construction company in Pakistan, a master’s program would equip him with additional information related to construction management and industry trends and align his existing knowledge with the transforming construction industry.

“Credit goes to Abdul—he convinced me,” Muhammad said, “and I already had it in my mind, so why not keep myself abreast with the latest techniques and trends in this industry?”

Going through graduate school together has brought about friendly competition among father and son when it comes to grades, but it also strengthened their relationship in other ways.

“It’s funny at times, you know, because I’m used to cramming for exams, but I had never seen my father do it. It’s been interesting that he’s in the same boat,” Abdul said.

Muhammad expanded upon that notion, noting the example he hopes he’s setting for his son and the rest of their family. Returning to the classroom nearly three decades after completing an undergraduate degree program is a challenge in and of itself. But as he sees it, there’s always room to learn.

“I would say I’m demonstrating something and trying to convince my other family members and, of course, our young generation that you have to learn until the time you go down to your grave,” Muhammad said. “The learning process has to continue, and you should never avoid it. It’s open-ended.”

The Khan family now calls Auburn home, and it’s where they spent their free time last year restoring a ’66 Mustang—a productive distraction from the rigors of their respective graduate programs.

“It was basically a barn find—this forgotten old Mustang in a small town in Georgia,” Abdul said. “But you know, we’re engineers, so we enjoy doing projects. My dad has been doing very interesting mechanical engineering-related projects all his life. I think that’s one of the things that inspired me to go into engineering. So, we’re just continuing with that, both professionally and personally.”

Muhammad agreed and noted the value of applying such practical skills.

“He started this project from scratch, and now he knows about its power system, its transmission system, its electrical system, cooling system and since he’s a mechanical engineer, plus he’s doing a master’s in industrial engineering, he needed to see the thing and do the thing with his own hands,” Muhammad said. “He now knows exactly how the equipment works, how the things move mechanically. I knew this project would help him in his future.”

The Mustang is a tangible reminder of their shared experience on the Plains that Abdul will be able to take with him wherever his career journey takes him next.

“We’ve become a real Auburn Family,” Abdul said with a smile. “I think just looking back at these past two years, I know I made the right choice by choosing Auburn. It’s not just because of the education or Auburn as a town, which is full of life. But it’s also the people I met here and the whole Southern experience. That is something that I will cherish forever.”

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