Making your ambitions happen.
For as long as I can remember, the environment has been important to me—maybe it’s because my dad is a civil engineer who works with water resources. When I was younger, I even used to pick up the trash around my block for fun.
I knew I wanted to be an environmental major in college, and that engineering would open a lot of doors while allowing me to create direct change. I wanted to work closely with the natural world as opposed to a factory, so I picked biological systems engineering, which studies how to make living systems better through engineering.
Something that I noticed within the engineering community is that everyone is willing to help each other out. Our engineering dean emphasizes the importance of teamwork—since engineering is so difficult, working with people is important.
I'm in the Women and Engineering Program at Nebraska. It's a cohort of women in my year who are in different engineering majors. It’s been nice having a little community. We've been able to put on an activity for a conference called Girl Day, where girls from Lincoln high schools come to learn about STEM. It’s cool to be able to work with girls and get them introduced to STEM. If you introduce it early, they might consider pursuing it as a career.
Overall, I haven't felt a large pressure as a woman in STEM here. It doesn't feel male-dominated—it feels like we're equal in the classroom. Especially in my major, biological systems engineering, which has a higher ratio of women to men.
Last summer, I was able to do two research projects. I was originally just going to do a UCARE project, but I got an email from our director about how there was a lot of space in the Summer Nebraska Engineering Research Program (SNERP) for those whose research projects were affected by COVID-19. We did a project on microplastics in agricultural soils. We looked at how fertilizers put microplastics into the soil and what happens to those microplastics when it rains.
For my UCARE project, I worked with Dr. Jessica Corman, a professor in the School of Natural Resources. We worked at Holmes Lake doing tests to see how nutrients affect the organisms, like phytoplankton. I was kind of nervous to work directly with a professor at first because I’d just finished my first year. My professor encouraged us to ask questions when we needed clarity. Both projects I worked on were a great way to introduce myself to environmental research.
One of my goals this semester is to look up different things I could do to get a better idea of where to take my career. Early on, I got involved in research to try to figure out what I want to do for a career. I didn't know that graduate school involves a lot of research. Before, I didn’t want to do more school, but when I found out about the research component I was like “okay, wait.” Now, I think going to grad school is a possibility.
Coming from a small high school, I didn’t think there was room for me to get involved and make a difference. But I learned even if you’re going to a big school where you're competing against other people for leadership roles, there's a community for you to grow both personally and professionally. Your leadership growth and skills don't have to stop after high school.