As a senior in high school, conversations about career interests helped me to consider giving Electrical Engineering a try. However, I had a tough decision to make regarding college. Do I continue playing football in college as a Division III athlete or do I fully pursue a top-ranked Electrical Engineering program? I was very conflicted because I loved football and liked the idea of being a student athlete. The turning point for me came the summer before I enrolled as a freshman. I was selected to participate in a Grainger College of Engineering program called ICE – Illinois Connections in Engineering. The program brought students to campus for six weeks to introduce them to life as a freshman in engineering. It was an amazing experience and created many friendships that remain to this day. I absolutely loved playing football but, after that experience, I could not pass up the opportunity to study Electrical Engineering at Illinois.
A key part of my Illinois experience was creating small communities on this big campus. For example, I came to Illinois on a Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) scholarship. That was one of my favorite experiences because, coming to a big school, you don’t know many people. However, ROTC immediately provided me with a community of 60-70 students. We worked out together, attended a few classes together, and hung out together. It was an instant pool of friendships to help ease some of the anxiety that comes with transitioning to a new place. I was also engaged in a Registered Student Organization (RSO), the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE), and was elected to their Executive Board as the Pre-Collegiate Chair. This was a special experience because in this role I worked closely to help NSBE and the Grainger College of Engineering recruit high school students from underrepresented backgrounds to purse engineering at Illinois. We brought students to campus, hosted them for the weekend, and created fun engaging experiences that showed them what life was like as an engineering student. Considering what college to attend can be such a period of anxiety. It was so rewarding to help others make such a big decision in their lives.
What makes the Grainger College of Engineering such a special place is that there are so many great support systems in place for students. During my sophomore year, I was diagnosed with Narcolepsy. It is a debilitating sleep disorder that greatly impacts being successful as a student. I struggled mightily and failed enough times to not take it personally. There were many times where the College could have easily given up on me. But they never did. Even if you fail or struggle along the way, the college will give you multiple opportunities to succeed as long as you continue to show that you believe in yourself and are willing to fight regardless of the challenges you face along the way. The Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, Career Services, the Deans, DRES (Disability Resources and Education Services) – everybody wants you to succeed, and I could not have graduated if I didn’t have their support. I am an example that even if you have a long road filled with adversity, you can still graduate. It is such a rewarding feeling to look back and say “Wow, I did it. I overcame the adversity and rewarded the faith that everyone had in me and that I had for myself, and I pulled through.” That accomplishment is something I will cherish for the rest of my life.
Currently, I am working as an Electrical Engineer at Shermco Industries. I love my job because I work directly in the field that I studied in my academic major. In school we learned a lot about the theory and math behind how the various electrical components and devices such as transformers work. But now I am in the field and I get to see how those electrical engineering concepts come together in the physical world. There is so much knowledge to learn as an electrical engineer in the power industry. However, I quickly realized how much being a student in the electrical engineering program prepared me for life working as an electrical engineer. I’m learning new things every day and I’m excited about the future as I work to obtain my professional engineer license.
For the students back on campus, I’d encourage you to always believe in yourself. You will face many challenges as a student, but you are a student at Illinois for a reason. You have to be your biggest supporter — the one that knows, even when the chips are down, you can achieve any goal if you put in the hard work and set yourself up for success. Take advantage of the resources available to you. Listen to the advisors and don’t let struggles keep you down. Don’t be afraid of failure. It takes failure to learn who you truly are. How you overcome failure contributes to your successes. Learn from the experience and keep on pushing.
(Last Updated: March 14, 2021)