Al-Rahim Merali ’13 Uses All He Learned at Whitman in a Job He Didn’t Know Existed at the Time

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When you go to high school in certain neighborhoods in Bellevue, Washington, you get a particular idea of what “success” looks like.

For Al-Rahim Merali ’13, success meant a future in engineering, health or computer science. As a high school senior and firstgeneration college student, he applied exclusively to engineering and computer science programs. Then his high school counselor told him to apply to Whitman College—immediately.

“She told me the deadline was approaching, and I should apply, and that we’d talk about it later,” Merali says. So, he did, even though he thought Whitman was a “reach” school for him.

He got in to what he considered his dream school—an engineering program in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada. But he also got in to Whitman, and was a candidate for the Paul Garrett Scholarship, the college’s most prestigious award, given to applicants who show exceptional academic and leadership achievements. Whitman flew Merali to Walla Walla, where he got to stay with a current student and learn more about the school and campus life.

“That visit completely altered my perspective,” Merali says. “I eventually turned down my dream school and decided to come to Whitman. I’m a big believer that things happen for a reason and wouldn’t trade my Whitman experience for any other.”

Finding His Own Way

While Merali initially planned to pursue an engineering degree via Whitman’s 3-2 Engineering program, he eventually shifted his pursuit to economics, then biology, and finally psychology.

It was in a Whitman classroom that he found what “felt right” for him. “I was going through a transformation where I was so focused on being practical, but I also started feeling increasingly emotionally aware and empathetic,” he says. “I took a psychology class, and I loved it. It was all about how to understand people and their motivations, what drives them.”

Merali graduated from Whitman in 2013 with a degree in psychology and a minor in biology. Today, he’s a user experience (UX) researcher at Google, where he uses research methods to understand the needs, behaviors and experiences of people using Google tools and products. He turns these insights into recommendations to direct design and engineering teams on how to improve products.

Going All In At Whitman

Merali works in an ever-evolving, future-focused industry, but looking back he sees how his college experience still shapes the person and employee he is today. The opportunities he had—to be a student leader, engage in his community and give back—continue to add meaning, he says. “The Whitman experience is more than just pursuing a major. It’s more than just a means to a career. It’s about learning, growing and creating experiences that positively impact others.”

“The Whitman experience is more than just pursuing a major. ... It’s about learning, growing and creating experiences that positively impact others.”—Al-Rahim Merali ’13, UX researcher at Google

As a student, Merali was uber-involved on and off campus. He was a resident assistant, student academic advisor, intern for the Admission Office, DJ for the student radio station, and involved in numerous community activities through the Student Engagement Center, including Adopt a Grandparent, Storytime (reading to local school children) and Best Buddies (a friendship program with adults with development disabilities). He also helped lead the SASA (South Asian Students Association) and participated in Whitman’s dance and intramural programs.

Merali’s grateful to have learned effective and empathetic communication, critical thinking and problem-solving at Whitman. He sees their influence in his work and life, every day, he says. And he easily lists other skills and values that he attributes to his time at Whitman, including leadership, adaptability, curiosity, teamwork and collaboration, and the ability to critically observe his environment.

“The job I have now, I didn’t know existed when I was at Whitman,” he says. “Whitman gave me the confidence to pursue opportunities that I felt underqualified for because I knew I would be challenged and have the runway to learn and grow.’’