It’s been a while. Work has been busy and I’m currently getting paid to write one blog post a week for Illinois Admissions, so I recommend you go check out some of my posts.

Currently, I’m preparing my last year of college when it feels like I was shopping for dorm room accessories just yesterday. For the next semester, I plan on spending my fall as most senior engineering students do: career fairs, job applications, interviews and site visits. I will be pursuing a full-time engineering role in industry relating to chemicals (or maybe consulting or refining).

But what about my love for engineering education?

Today, I read an article in from USA Today titled 74% of STEM Grads Don’t Get STEM Jobs. A sociologist conducted this research and described her findings, “STEM graduates have relatively low unemployment; however, these graduates are not necessarily employed in STEM occupations.” Even though 50% of engineers will take STEM jobs, only 14% of these engineers are women. It would be possible to seek a job related to science and math education to help inspire K-12 students to be engineers, but this is not where my passion lies. Universities are seeing an increase engineering enrollment, but the country is not seeing a result from this. There has not been an increase in full-time engineers, despite more students studying engineering.

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One way my fellow engineering students at Illinois are raising the number of women in STEM (and business and finance and everywhere else) is with their start-up Miss Possible. Click this picture to learn more about their business and their Indiegogo campaign!

So I will help (hopefully) raise the 14% of female engineers and 50% of engineering students in a STEM occupation. I want to work in industry so I can figure out how incoming college students and freshman engineering students can learn and become passionate about STEM jobs. I cannot help narrow the gap between college and industry if I do not experience both. While I work in technical role, I will continue to help improve engineering education through volunteering with organizations like Big Beacon and First Lego League competitions.

Why do I care about Engineering Education?

I care about the 74% because this number cannot be stagnant. I also care about the 100%. Engineering outreach must not simply be “look how cool science can be”. It must show K-12 students what it means to be an engineering. Undergraduate students cannot be cooped up in a classroom talking about theory all day. They must be taught theory and then taken out into the real world to see the application of theoretical knowledge. Everyday, education must add value to the student so that it is not simply discarded after graduation. Instead of projecting something on a PowerPoint slide and saying “you’ll use this someday”, we must give students something that they can use today. We have a growing need for engineers, scientists and mathematicians in this country, but 74% are not employed in STEM fields. I challenge both the academic and industrial worlds to work together to change these numbers. Because if we change these numbers, we will change science, technology, research, manufacturing and so many more integral parts of our society. By improving engineering education, we will change the world.

What about my future?

I could go to grad school for PhD in engineering education. I could find a role within the company I work for that allows me to improve engineering education. I could find a new company committed to improving engineering education. I could be an entrepreneur and start my own company. There are so many opportunities to do so much and wherever I am in the future, I only know one thing: I will be working to change the world, one mind at a time.

Hello! Greetings from my textbooks, notebooks and piles of practice exams! Yes, that’s right. It is currently finals week here at the University of Illinois. Only a few more days until summer! But until then, tests which cover everything you’ve been learning (or were supposed to learn) over the past few months must be completed which will determine your whole future. No pressure. Currently I’ve taken one final, have two more tomorrow and my last final will be Friday morning. Then I get to move to Michigan and start work on Monday. Yep. I know. It’s a quick turnaround, but it’s exciting! So, I haven’t written a Joy of Engineering post because I’ve been stuck under quite a few textbooks, but I wanted to find joy in finals, so here we go.

My joy of engineering is faith.

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NFK 118 Chapel Cover, helping out with a church retreat earlier this school year.

As many close friends know, I’ve experienced statistically significant spiritual growth over the past year. When I lived Houston, I really struggled to find God in my life because I had no community or support in a city where I knew very few people. Upon returning to Illinois, I slowly increased my involvement in the Catholic community on campus. When I encountered struggles, I always had friends with in this spiritual family to fall back on who loved me and guided me in growing closer to God. Even though this semester was even busier than last semester, I was able to serve on a retreat and increase my attendance at daily mass and prayer time. And I found so many more joys in my life, even though I was busier. God is responsible for my joys. In Him, all things are possible. And so my joy of engineering is faith.

My joy of engineering is faith because I know that whatever happens with final exams, God has a plan for me. I have faith that my studies will be well spent just as the time I take off of studying to go to daily mass or go pray in the chapel will also be well spent. I have faith that God will help me grow in whatever way he sees fit and that he will help me succeed this week. By succeed, I mean take finals to the best of my ability. I do not want to define my success by a grade on a final, but by how these exams fit into God’s plan for me and how they help me grow closer to God. I find joy in knowing that I am not alone through the struggles of studying and completion of challenging final. I have faith. I have God.

Regardless of your beliefs, I think you should also find joy in having faith in yourself. Never ever think that you are stupid or that your questions are dumb as you study for finals. Instead, look at your textbook and admire how many chapters of new material you learned this semester. Redo homework problems you struggled with and be amazed by how much better you understand them. Take joy in having faith in yourself because you have learned so much and have conquered the semester.

I cannot begin to express my love and gratitude to my friends who have shown me Christ over the past year through Koinonia, small group, mass, etc. Thank you to all of Illinois’s Catholic community for being fellow children of God!

This may sound strange, but I always looked forward to owning my textbooks in college. In high school, I loved receiving paperback books when we started a new novel because it meant the book was mine. I love to read and add to my own personal library.

In college, I think ownership of a textbook is a student’s opportunity to create a library of resources for use in his or her future career. When I worked at my internship over the summer, my mentor constantly referenced the shelf of textbooks he kept after graduating college. He used these books to answer my questions, ensure he understood patterns in refinery processes, double check design parameters, etc.

Textbooks are a crucial source of learning for all college students. However, textbooks are also extremely expensive. With the high cost of college, it can be difficult to find the means to pay for both tuition and new textbooks at the beginning of a new semester.

A new report surfaced this week on textbooks and here’s what the study found on textbooks:

  • Students spend ~$1200 on textbooks per year.

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    My Spring 2014 semester textbooks.

  • Textbook prices have increased 82% over the past 10 years.
  • 65% of students do not buy required textbooks because they’re so expensive.
  • 94% of students not buying required textbooks are worried about how this decision will negatively impact their grade.

There are methods to lower costs which were not included in the study. I could have spent $900 on new textbooks this semester, but instead I’m borrowing and buying used books from students for $150. But sometimes, that’s not an option when a brand new book is being used or a new edition of a textbook comes out. Book exchanges and borrowing does not change the fact that textbook prices have a negative impact on students.

Students should not be forced into buying brand new versions of their textbooks. In a digital age, more textbooks need to be available online and through open source technology. If the major cost of printing is taken out of textbook pricing, costs can be significantly lower. These types of textbook media are becoming more available, but not quickly enough to meet student demand. In the mean time, textbook publishers need to search for more ways to lower textbook costs so that students may receive a good education, regardless of their financial situation.

When I moved to the University of Illinois as a freshman, I knew no one on campus. I grew up in a suburb of Toledo, Ohio. When the University of Illinois is mentioned, Ohioans frequently respond, “Oh, I love Chicago!” Actually, the University of Illinois’s main campus is located here in Urbana-Champaign, about 2.5 hours south of Chicago.

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WIMSE took a trip to Chicago freshman year where we visited the Museum of Science and Industry and took these pictures.

So I chose to live in the Women in Math, Science and Engineering (WIMSE) Living-Learning Community for my first year at college. A living-learning community is a floor (or several floors, in the case of WIMSE) where people of similar interests live. WIMSE consisted of three floors of at least 50 girls each who were studying subjects related to math, science and engineering. As a freshman who knew no one at a school of 40,000+ students, I felt at home because I lived in WIMSE. I found friends, study buddies, people to go swing dancing with, and so much more from the ladies at WIMSE.

A living-learning community for women in STEM is a beneficial method to encourage women to continue studying science and engineering. I was able to create my own support group who encouraged me to continue studying and dreaming of changing the world, even when I had a 40 page lab report due the next day. WIMSE was a home where female engineer and science students were a majority, not a minority as often happen in physics and calculus classes. When women find a community that both helps and supports their dreams, women will exceed their goals. This is what WIMSE does for women of STEM. Living-learning communities like WIMSE increase the retention of women within science, math and engineering fields of study.

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One interest shared throughout WIMSE was Doctor Who, so my dorm room became a place where WIMSE and other Whovians could watch new episodes on Saturday nights.

Now, 2 out of my 3 roommates live with me off-campus after we became good friends in WIMSE. I still spend weekend nights with former WIMSE girls because they’re still our best friends even though no one lives next door to each other anymore. Most of the executive boards of engineering student organizations include at least one former WIMSE resident, especially the Society of Women Engineers. Former WIMSE residents are currently accomplishing their dreams: attend their top veterinary school, travel the world, work for NASA, conduct ground-breaking research on cancer, etc. I think living in WIMSE for my first year and a half of college was one of the best decisions I made because what I learned living in WIMSE continues to inspire me to be the best engineer I can be.

According to Merriam-Webster.com:

sexy

adjective \ˈsek-sē\

: sexually appealing, attractive, or exciting

: having interesting or appealing qualities

sex·i·er  sex·i·est

So a more apt title for this post would be “Engineering has interesting or appealing qualities!” Doesn’t have as much of a ring to it, does it?

Society does not do a great job of making engineering sexy.

This Ryan Gosling meme does a better job at making engineering sexy.

I love the Big Bang Theory, but this TV show focuses nerdy scientist in love with his beautiful neighbor but it takes them years to date because he’s too smart for her. I love my siblings, but when I tried to encourage my brother to consider joining a FIRST Robotics team, my sister adamantly dissuaded him because it would be “social suicide”. We allow children to start giving up when they say, “I’m not good at math” which we would never do if they said, “I’m not good at reading.” As an engineer, I’m a geek and a nerd taking classes that are “way too hard for me” as everyone I ran into in my hometown told me the past four weeks. Not very interesting or appealing, is it?

Currently, I don’t think I’ve been doing a great job of making engineering sexy enough either.

So without further ado…

Top 10 Reasons Engineering is Sexy

(has interesting or appealing qualities)

  1. Engineers make a difference! Whether it’s making things people use everyday or creating new technology to change the world, engineers are making the world a better place every single day.
  2. Engineers are extremely employable! The US needs more STEM graduates which is why the typical University of Illinois engineering student receives at least two full-time job offers
  3. Engineers do cool things everyday! A family friend who graduated last year currently works for GM breaking engines, pulling them apart and then figuring out why they broke.
  4. Engineers can do anything! Are you interested in health care, food, law, or banking? Engineers can create new medical devices such as a contact that monitor diabetics’ glucose levels, manufacture their favorite foods like Hershey’s chocolate, work in patent law or be finance engineers!
  5. Engineers make a lot money! Here at the University of Illinois, engineers have the highest starting salary out of all majors.
  6. Engineers are creative! Engineers are constantly thinking of new ideas so they can make the world a better place.
  7. Engineers can work anywhere in the world! Every country in the world needs engineers which is why many companies offer international rotation programs to allow their employees to go see the world.
  8. The 2008 US Olympic men’s swim team set 16 records.

    Engineers have good job security! The market just crashed? Everyone still needs engineers to fix roads and make daily items like shampoo and laundry detergent.

  9. Engineers have new projects to work on everyday! Instead of sifting through paperwork all the time, engineers constantly have new, exciting problems to solve.
  10. Engineering is always exciting! Everyday, I learn something new about science that makes me rethink the world whether its why water heats up in the microwave but nitrogen doesn’t or how the design of 2008’s US Olympic swimmers’ bathing suits helped them break records.

This talk was inspired by a Big Beacon Twitter chat on January 15. You can read more about it here. Thanks for reading, commenting, sharing, etc. and have an awesome week!

At the airport in January, preparing to fly for eight hours from Detroit to London for study abroad.

Over three months ago, on a dark rainy night, I arrived in Swansea, Wales with two huge suitcases of almost everything I owned. After an hour of running around in the dark with luggage, I finally figured out how to pick up my keys and move into my current home. It took some adjustment to get used to study abroad, which I expected. However, I was unprepared for the adjustment of a friend who had also come from Illinois to Swansea with me.

In January 2012, I decided that I wanted to study abroad in January 2013. Instantly, a good friend and fellow chemical engineer decided that she wanted to study abroad as well and would come with me wherever I went. Together, we planned our study abroad experiences for January 2013 here in Swansea, already discussing the three week spring break we would do together as a tour of Europe. At the same time, we continued to take the same classes together and also decided to live in an apartment together for the academic year of 2013-2014 with two of my best friends.

After arriving in Swansea, all of my careful planning quickly dismantled itself. My friend and I adjusted in our own separate ways to the United Kingdom. We settled into different methods of thinking and dealing with our new situations which we believed to be the “right” and “correct” way so that we failed to understand the other person. Sadly, both of us thought more highly of ourselves than of each other. This led to a lot of disagreements between us that unfortunately poisoned our friendship. I did not go on a grand tour of Europe with my friend for spring break nor will I be living with her next semester because we must now work to salvage our friendship as much as possible.

This sad personal story brings me to what, in my opinion, is one of the largest problems facing women in engineering today: Women react in unhealthy ways to competition and are more emotionally vulnerable to it. Women are catty and hold on to grudges a little too well. In my case, my friend and I competed over which method was the “best” way of living the study abroad experience. Generally men are more prone to reacting to an insult physically, exchanging a few blows and then making up the next day. Women, on the other hand, remember when someone wounds their pride all too well for weeks and make use of opportunities to exact revenge in a spiteful manner. This is a stereotype and not always the case, but it’s also mostly true.

Illinois’s 2011-2012 Society of Women Engineering Team Tech, a group of engineers who compete in a design competition that fosters healthy rivalry among women.

Engineering is a competitive program. In order to receive an A while studying at Illinois, 80% of my class has to perform poorer than I do. Being an out-of-state student on academic scholarship, I especially feel the weight of this competition and the pressure to perform. I also must confess to feeling a little schadenfreude when the girls who always talked behind me in my first college chemistry class dropped the class because it was too challenging for them. Competition is currently necessary in order to make the engineering curriculum function and it’s necessary in life as well. However, it fails to encourage women to pursue engineering because the competition in engineering can cause resentment and destroy friendships, especially for women.

Should girls and boys be educated separately in math and science? I don’t think so. I’m a staunch promoter of gender equality, outside and inside the classroom. That being said, girls and boys do think and approach problems differently. Girls and boys place different values on different things. Engineering is dominated by men so it is designed to accommodate their method of thinking more than women’s. In order to promote engineering to women, I believe engineering needs to design its sense of competition to be appealing to both men and women without causing the social strain I’ve experienced recently.

This post is part of the Woman in Engineering category to be used in a future ethnography. These posts reflect feelings and experiences from a student, not concrete truth and hypotheses.

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