After working without a degree for eight years in both the Chicago and Denver areas, I moved back to Chicago and decided I was tired of doing the work that "a trained monkey could do." So, in January 2006, I enrolled at MCC. It was local, the classes I needed were offered at a time I could take them, and my workplace reimbursed me for the costs. After taking my first class, I was impressed with the quality of the professors and their desire to pass on what they knew to the students.
At the time, I had aspirations of becoming a meteorologist. I so wanted to chase tornadoes and fly into hurricanes – you know, the thrill-seeking jobs that hardly anyone gets. So, I took night classes in calculus and physics while working full time. I got good enough grades to get invited to join Phi Theta Kappa, which I did, and in 2007-08 served as a Member-At-Large on the Chi Upsilon Leader's Council. I also spoke to a biology class (at the request of the professor) to impress upon them the importance of their education and getting it while they had fewer things tying them down, like family, bills, etc. I graduated magna cum laude in May 2008.
During my time at MCC, I was introduced to an adjunct professor named Joe Nothnagel. He was teaching engineering physics at the time, a subject with which I struggled mightily. He worked really hard to make sure his students grasped the material, and it's because of him that I even applied to Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology in Terre Haute, Indiana. He had a son who graduated from there. I didn't think I had a chance to get in – a STEM school like that typically isn't the place for "non-traditional" students like me. But, I got in with a 3/4 ride. By the end of my first year at RHIT (sophomore year), I fell in love with fluid mechanics, and it's been hydraulic engineering for me ever since.
I joined the Alpha Phi Omega Service Fraternity, American Society of Civil Engineers, and Alpha Omicron Pi women's fraternity. In AOII, I served as the vice president of chapter development, and as a senior, served as chapter president. During my senior year, I was awarded the SMART (Science, Mathematics, and Research for Transformation) Scholarship for Service from the Department of Defense. This scholarship paid for everything during my senior year, with one catch – I had to accept a job with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Los Angeles after graduation. No problem there at all. But, that's how I made it to L.A.
Just prior to graduation, I was awarded the Morris L. Cleverly Award for Excellence in Civil Engineering. I also took and passed my fundamentals of engineering exam, and received my Engineer-In-Training (EIT) certification. I graduated cum laude with my Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering with a minor in Environmental Engineering in May 2011.
I completed my two-year internship with USACE Los Angeles in July 2013, and have been permanently stationed in the Reservoir Regulation Section of the Hydrology and Hydraulics Branch in the Engineering Division. My job is to work with the Los Angeles-area dams and reservoirs. It's our duty to ensure that, during rain events, we keep the City of Los Angeles and surrounding areas from flooding, since it's concrete from the Sierra Nevadas to the ocean. Water is a very big deal in the west, and it's our responsibility to ensure life safety of those living around our reservoirs as well as water conservation and environmental preservation.
I'm also studying for my Professional Engineer's exam (the PE), and hope to get my license next year.
If I can pass along one word of advice to anyone, it's this:
No matter what you want to do, or when you decide it's time to do it, you can. I didn't get my engineering degree until I was 31. Just because you might not fit into the "traditional" student box doesn't mean that you shouldn't follow your dreams. You can be whatever you want to be – all it takes is the motivation and hard work to do it.
MCC was the stepping stone that opened a whole world of opportunity for me.
Seize that opportunity for yourself.