AE grad Ajai Rajeev begins life after college with Peace Corps service


Debra Levey Larson

Ajai Rajeev, BS '22
Ajai Rajeev, BS '22

Ajai Rajeev received his B.S. in ’22 with a major in aerospace engineering and a minor in political science. After graduating, he decided to join the Peace Corps and is currently serving in Morocco for two years.

Learn more about his experiences in Morocco, what he enjoyed while at Illinois, and his plans for the future.  

AE: What influenced your decision to join the Peace Corps?

AR: When I first entered UIUC, I fully intended to work in the space sector, and I still do, but in a different capacity than what I originally intended after using my time in undergraduate studies to fully understand my best skills and my interests.

I want to go into law for the space sector. I felt that going to the Peace Corps would be an exciting opportunity to diversify my resume and show my multifaceted capabilities and personability, as well as my ability to adapt to a variety of situations while displaying professionalism and a commitment to my work. 

Rajeev teaching
Rajeev teaching in Morocco

AE: Why Morocco?

AR: I applied to where I was needed most, and I ended up here. The Moroccan Ministry of Youth, Culture, and Sports felt that it would be useful for Moroccan youth to be able to speak and understand conversational English as the world is becoming increasingly interconnected and the main language for discourse in academics and on the internet is English. They asked Peace Corps to provide a substantial number of volunteers to assist with furthering this cause, and due to that, many recent recruits have been assigned to Morocco for youth development.

AE: What is your service assignment?

AR: I am an English teacher first and foremost, but I also work with youth to develop life skills such as entrepreneurship, self-sufficiency for adults, and time management and discipline for youth. Furthermore, I use my STEM proficiency for programs such as introductory Python and proper application of computer programs to assist with projects and entering the workforce. I also coordinate the use of Peace Corps’ funding to create public works projects such as libraries.

Rajeev, center in brown plaid shirt, with his Moroccan host family
Rajeev, center in brown plaid shirt, with his Moroccan host family

AE: What have you encountered in your work in the Peace Corps that has been challenging or rewarding?

AR: It took a substantial amount of adapting to get used to lifestyle differences. One thing you learn pretty quickly in your time here is how to have humility and the capability to adapt, the people who remain stuck in their ways tend to last long. The first couple of weeks were difficult, but careful observation of how my community approaches problems and following their example has allowed me to overcome the lack of the same amenities that I was privileged to have in the United States.

Also, of course, learning the language. During the first few months, it was tremendously difficult to communicate with my community. Moroccan Arabic is filled with many idiosyncrasies and has influences from Spanish, French, and regional languages so it is a difficult language to learn. 

Honestly, the challenges have also been rewarding. Learning how to adapt and learning how to be self-sufficient in a completely different environment has allowed me to grow as a person and be comfortable and confident with the person that I am and what I value. This is a uniquely challenging and rewarding experience. I would recommend it to everyone. Also seeing the day-to-day improvement in the English of my students fills me with so much pride. 

View of the mountainside village where Rajeev works in Morocco
View of the mountainside village where Rajeev works in Morocco

AE: What do you want to do after you’ve completed your two years of service in the corps?

AR: I suspect that these two years may go by in a blink, judging from the speed at which my first few months of service have gone by. I am greatly enjoying my experience here and it is quite an exciting time. Morocco is a beautiful country; the people are very kind and welcoming and my work is quite rewarding.

I will return to the states in 2024. I intend to go to law school. I would like to combine the massive catalog of technical acumen I have developed in my four years of aerospace engineering with expertise in public policy or corporate law to assist however I can in the mission to push mankind past the borders of our planet.

Rajeev, center, at an Engineering Student Alumni Ambassadors event
Rajeev, center, at an Engineering Student Alumni Ambassadors event

AE: What did you enjoy while at Illinois?

AR: I enjoyed taking courses in a variety of subjects, from dance to anthropology, trying to take advantage of the wide variety of courses and activities. I also participated in a multitude of recreational clubs, from outdoor adventures to improvisational acting. My time in college had a substantial number of peaks and valleys, but I am grateful for every experience and how it has helped me to grow as a person.

Outside of recreational RSOs, I heavily participated in the Illinois Robotics in Space mechanical team in my early collegiate years and then served in leadership positions for Engineering Student Alumni Ambassadors. I appreciated my opportunity to meet several faculty members and to be of service to the school during events such as E-week.

AE: What was your senior design project?

AR: My senior design project was creating a conceptual design for a dual satellite system where one servicer satellite would autonomously provide service and fuel to another target satellite to extend its overall mission life span for Professor Lembeck. I served as the instrument design lead and mission team lead.

 AE: What was your favorite class and professor?

Rajeev with Illinois Robotics in Space robots for the NASA Lunabotics competition at the Kennedy Space Center
Rajeev with Illinois Robotics in Space robots for the NASA Lunabotics competition at the Kennedy Space Center

AR: My favorite class was AE 483, Autonomous Systems Lab with Professor Bretl. It was an enjoyable experience designing code and understanding the concepts behind autonomous flight control and applying them for use in a drone. For the final project, my lab mates and I were able to create an entirely new autonomous drone system by combining two drones together using a 3D-printed rigid body.

My favorite professor was Professor Woodard. His sense of humor and helpful nature always ensured a very enjoyable course where I learned a lot.