Meet Our Students
What's it like to be a UW engineering student? Four students talk about their experiences, challenges and goals.
Junior, aeronautics & astronautics
“I'm a resident adviser in McCarty Hall... It's great to see all the students come in with what they want to do, and give them advice. It's empowering to think that I've helped someone even in a really small way. We also put on programs in the engineering dorms.”
More about Erich Carson
Where are you from and why did you pick the UW?
Originally I'm from Ferndale WA and when I got into the UW I was pretty excited that it’s fairly close to home. The UW is so big and at first it definitely scared me to go out and try new things. I was really shy, I didn't talk much or seek things out, because I had no idea if I would fit in. However, I've noticed a total shift since I got here. There are so many opportunities within my department and at the UW, and I've found so much to do here that I really enjoy. Now when I look back on it, I’m grateful that the UW is a big place.
When did you know you wanted to be an engineer? How did you decide on your department?
I've known that I wanted to study space since I was about five years old. Anything with a spaceship is really cool to me. There's just this awe I feel looking up and not knowing what's out there and the fact that we designed these technologies to explore space, manned and unmanned. I've always been good at science and math, but it wasn't until early high school that I finally made the connection between aerospace engineering and my passions.
How did you get involved in undergraduate research? What do you do?
I was in thermodynamics class and my professor started talking about his work in the Fusion Lab, and I thought it sounded cool. I asked if I could come by the lab and get a tour. When he gave me the tour, he asked me if I’d like to work in his lab, so of course I said, “yeah sign me up!” It’s been an awesome experience. In the lab, they are working on a different method of creating fusion energy, and I’ve been working on the magnetic probe that goes inside the plasma device to measure magnetic fields.
How has your time doing research impacted your education?
There's classroom work where you have a problem, and you know you've been working on a chapter out of the book, so you know the answer is found in that chapter. In the Fusion Lab, I had to design some parts over the summer, and the postdoc in the lab asked if the pieces would work or would they break. I realized I hadn't thought of it that way. I had to rethink all of the mechanics and materials and figure out if those parts would break based on the failure theories I'd learned, and apply the theory to a problem that didn't have a right answer. There were probably three or five right answers that he would have accepted; it was how I chose to approach it.
Are you involved in any other student groups or other projects?
I'm a resident advisor in McCarty Hall as an engineering RA. It's great to see all the students come in with what they want to do, and give them advice. It's empowering to think that I've helped someone even in a really small way. We also put on programs in the engineering dorms. The coolest one is Engineering Exploration Night (EEN). Most of the time, new students have no idea what engineers really do, and at the EEN, they get to meet with engineering professionals that work in their field.
I'm also co-lead of the Design Build Launch team. Each year, we build a rocket for a yearly competition. It’s a lot of fun, and it doesn't have very many stringent requirements on what you have to build so we can be really creative. I oversee the recovery and I’m a member of the payload team so we’re designing all the electronics.
What would you like to do when you graduate?
When I graduate, I'd love to get a job working for an engineering firm. My real dream is to be an astronaut someday. I don't know if that will ever happen but I'll definitely shoot for it.
Junior, chemical engineering
“I was really scared to come to UW because of the huge class sizes. I've found it's actually wonderful, because the school is so big you meet so many different kinds of people. Someone told me this before, and I didn't believe them at the time, but it's true: the UW is as big as you make it.”
More about Solai Ramanathan
How did you decide on the UW?
I'm from Issaquah and I went to Skyline High School. You can't live nearby and not know about the UW — everyone has gone for a summer program or has parents that are alums. Initially I wanted to go out of state, but I figured out that UW was the best choice, the smartest choice of all my options. There wasn't much diversity (at other schools) whereas the UW had that diversity, and I really wanted to meet different kinds of people, so that was important for me.
Did you know that you wanted to go into an engineering program when you were looking at colleges?
The summer after my junior year I went to MIT for an engineering program, Women in Technology. There, I took classes in computer science, electrical engineering, discreet math and mechanical engineering. Through that program, I decided to go into engineering, but I still hadn't quite figured out the type of engineering.
When I was living in the Engineering Community, they had programs for pre-engineering students where we could meet different groups on campus. I got to learn more about other majors. My chemistry class went great and I found out I really enjoy chemistry. I also love doing math, and advisers informed me that chemical engineering is mainly a combination of math and chemistry. And because it's so broad, I could get a job afterward.
What excites you about chemical engineering?
Solar cells really interest me because I was born in India and brought up in South India. Here you just have electricity all the time, and you take it for granted. But when you go there, you realize, they cut the power for at least an hour a day, and once a month, your power is cut for the whole day. Some villages get their power cut for 6 to 12 hours a day. And even when there is power, everyone is very careful to not waste electricity, because it's pretty expensive. But, it's also sunny year round. If you put in a bunch of solar cells, they could run off of that energy instead of struggling.
What was it like living in the Engineering Community in McCarty Hall?
I lived there for two years, and it was really great. The majority of people on my floor were freshman, and they were taking many of the same classes. There was this big poster on the floor that had everyone's name and the classes they were taking. My study group would work together and when we'd get a homework problem we didn't know, we'd just go knock on someone else's door.
So what do you do in your spare time when you’re not doing school-related things?
In my freshman year, I started dancing on a dandiya garba team, a traditional Indian dance team. This year I've been promoted to captain. We choose our own songs and put it together ourselves. It's been a really nice balance with school. We try to do around 4 performances a year.
What advice would you give to a prospective engineering student or someone who is thinking about studying engineering?
Make friends and have study groups, because if it wasn't for my study groups, I don't think I would have gotten through half my classes. Plus, you get better working with others, bouncing ideas off each other. In the real workplace, you're going to have to collaborate with others and this really preps you.
Also, I was really scared to come to UW because of the huge class sizes. I've found it's actually wonderful, because the school is so big you meet so many different kinds of people. Someone told me this before, and I didn't believe them at the time, but it's true: the UW is as big as you make it. In my major there are only 60 people, so it can be like going to a small college with only 60 other students where you know everyone, but I can make it as big as I want, too. So it's really up to you and there's nothing to be scared about going to a big university.
“If you are creative, you can use what you have learned to change the world through innovation and positive thinking. UW engineering is about coming up with the next big idea or device that can change the world.”
More about Ameen Tabatabai
Where are you from and why did you pick the UW?
I'm from Redmond, WA. I grew up with the UW in my backyard, and I've been coming to campus since I was a toddler. I've also been a longtime Husky sports fan. When it came time to apply for college, the University of Washington was my first choice.
Why did you choose to pursue a bioengineering degree?
As a child, I was diagnosed with a rare liver disease called primary sclerosing cholangitis (PSC). I spent a lot of time in hospitals, and in 2010, I had a liver transplant at the UW Medical Center. My transplant inspired me to pursue bioengineering. I want to do research, working on new devices and treatments.
How has your personal experience influenced your engineering education?
I've been a patient, so I have a different perspective. In engineering, there's a lot of collaboration with other students and faculty. We all have the same curriculum but different inspirations and backgrounds. I've been talking to doctors and other medical professionals for a long time, and I just joined the Transplant Council at the UW Medical Center, where patients work with physicians and hospital administration to improve transplant protocols. I think these experiences have really strengthened my communications skills.
Describe your undergraduate research experience.
I work at the Center for Industrial and Medical Ultrasound at the Applied Physics Laboratory. Ultrasound and imaging is an interest of mine, because I've been operated on by devices like these since I was young. I've seen how this technology has changed. In the lab, I run some of the design tests. Right now we’re working on a project that is transplant related, so I also work with the Transplant Center and Transplant Procurement Center.
How is working in the lab is different from what you do in the classroom?
Hands-on work brings research and education together. What you learn in the classroom, you see in action in the lab, and it enhances your education and helps you understand the concepts better. You also learn stuff that isn't taught in class, like professionalism. You have to be open to other people's ideas and listen to what they have to say. If you have research experience along with your education, you are more prepared for what you want to do after you get your degree.
What other activities do you enjoy?
After my transplant, I wanted to remain healthy and honor my donor's gift. I joined a group here at UW called Team Transplant, and we train together for half marathons. Achieving physical health and exercise gives me confidence, and the team keeps me involved with the transplant community.
What would you tell a prospective engineering student?
If you are interested in math and science, the UW is a great place to study engineering. Core classes and top-notch faculty set us apart from other engineering schools. If you are creative, you can use what you have learned to change the world through innovation and positive thinking. UW engineering is about coming up with the next big idea or device that can change the world.
Nissa Van Meter
Junior, electrical engineering
“I'm on the Dawg Bytes robotics team, and we're building a robotic Mars rover for a competition... In class, I'm learning the inner workings like how a processor is constructed. Now, on the robotics team, I'm learning how to use that information and actually build something. ”
More about Nissa Van Meter
Where are you from and how did you pick the UW?
I'm from Medical Lake, Washington, which is a town near Spokane. I come from a really small town – I had 80 students in my graduating class. The town has a population of 5,000, less than the freshman class when I showed up here!
I didn't know much about the UW, but I looked it up and found out it has a really good engineering program. I knew that's what I want to do, plus the departments I was interested in were strong, so the UW sounded like a good fit.
How did you get interested in engineering?
Most people talk about wanting to be an engineer because they loved Legos®, and I didn't even have Legos. But when I was a kid, the cartoon Jimmy Neutron was my favorite TV show. It was different from all the other cartoons that were on. I related to Jimmy because he didn't quite fit in with the rest of his classmates, he had a little social awkwardness and he was really smart and he liked to invent things. I decided that I wanted to build my own Godard [Jimmy Neutron's pet, a robot dog]. So I didn't really decide on electrical engineering, rather that I decided I wanted to build robots because of Jimmy Neutron.
What are some things in your field or area of study that excited you?
I'm on the Dawg Bytes robotics team, and we're building a robotic Mars rover for a competition. We hope it will go along with a manned mission to Mars to transport packages, and clean and repair equipment.
My role is on the electronics team doing embedded systems. We're figuring out microprocessors and motor controllers, and picking the electronics that the rest of the team is going to need. It's very different from just being in the classroom. In class, I'm learning the inner workings like how a processor is constructed. Now, on the robotics team, I'm learning how to use that information and actually build something.
What advice would you give to a prospective student?
When I showed up to the UW, I hadn't taken physics or chemistry, so those classes were all very intimidating. They are considered "weed out" classes, and are hard. But I discovered the class isn't there to weed out those that aren't smart enough. I didn't do so hot in physics, and I thought maybe I shouldn't be an engineer. But I refused to give up, I survived and I got into my department, and I'm doing great now.
Is there anything else that you wanted to share?
Don't be afraid to talk to your professors. They can be very intimidating, but they are really there to help you. I have gotten to know a good many of the faculty, and they know me by name — but that might be because I have a weird name! But talk to your professors and talk to your peers, you learn better from others than you can from a text book sometimes.
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“Engineering is a very creative profession... [Without] diversity, we limit the set of life experiences that are applied, and as a result, we pay an opportunity cost - a cost in products not built, in designs not considered, in constraints not understood, in processes not invented..."
~ William. A. Wulf,
former NAE President,
Diversity in Engineering,
The Bridge, Winter 1998.