Renee Sailor, a student and a leader
Renee Sailor (BCE 2021) has an analytical mind and an interest in science. Engineering has been a way for her to apply those natural attributes.
Sailor was introduced to various types of engineering while attending a camp sponsored by the Society of Women Engineers (SWE). She began to explore how she could fit into those fields. Her interest in civil engineering was piqued when she began to realize the unseen but significant impact of infrastructure on our everyday lives.
As a high school student in Oregon, Wisconsin, Sailor was involved in DECA, a business club, and became an officer. She liked working on projects with her colleagues and enjoyed the community and relationships that developed. “I tend to be organized, and learned that I was good at the behind-the-scenes administrative side of things. I don’t specifically seek out leadership roles, but as I pursue what I liked, things tend to work out that way.”
At the University of Minnesota, Sailor has taken on leadership roles in several groups. Sailor has been part of the Steel Bridge Team and treasurer of the student chapter of the American Public Works Association (APWA). Currently, she is Captain of the Concrete Canoe Team and President of the ASCE Student Chapter. In her role as president, Sailor helped plan the ASCE Career Fair and is presiding over the 100th anniversary of the student chapter at UMN.
In the midst of all these activities, Sailor does not lose site of her studies. She is a member of Chi Epsilon, the civil engineering honor society, and recipient of both the 3M/Coleman Family Foundation Scholarship and the James and Sharon Weinel Chi Epsilon Scholarship. These scholarships have been helpful in allowing Sailor time to devote to her studies and to student group leadership roles where she has excelled.
Upon receiving the James and Sharon Weinel Chi Epsilon Scholarship, Sailor wrote to her benefactors: "Thank you for your generosity. This fall I will start my senior year studying Civil Engineering. I am looking forward to finishing my degree and finding a full-time position to best utilize what I have learned. Your scholarship will help make that happen."
Sailor credits her success partly to the mentors that supported her. Sailor sought out mentors at both peer and professional levels. During her first year in the College of Science and Engineering, Sailor participated in the Peer Mentoring Program and was paired with Abby Bosell (BCE 2018), also a civil engineering major and two years ahead of Sailor. The two checked in regularly, keeping up on one another’s schooling and activities. The relationship continued until Bosell graduated and moved on to Leo A Daly, an architecture and engineering firm where she is a Structural Engineer in Training.
Later, Sailor participated in the CSE Mentor Program, a college-wide program that pairs students with professionals. In her junior year, she was paired with CEGE alumna Alex (Miller) Mollenkamp (BCE 2014) at WSB. In her senior year, she and two other students met with Cathy Kray at Larson Engineering. Her professional mentors gave Sailor opportunities to visit their offices and some job sites, as well as answering her numerous questions about the profession.
Sailor's glimpse into municipal engineering came during her time as an intern at the Minneapolis public works department, where she worked for the water treatment and distribution department. She began to understand the challenge in building infrastructure that is safe, long lasting, and moves the industry toward minimal impact. She believes it is important to work smartly in areas of city planning and maintenance, land development, and infrastructure. The experience led her to develop an emphasis in municipal engineering.
A recent class deepened her growing commitment to facing these challenges. In the fall semester of 2020, Sailor chose what she thought would be a fun and challenging technical elective course, Stochastic Ecohydrology taught by Assistant Professor Xue Feng. The topic was very different from other classes she had taken, like Highway Design, which she describes as very technical. “Stochastic Ecohydrology involved a lot of biology and ecology research. Professor Feng was knowledgeable and very nice. That course introduced me to new ideas about the effects that engineering and our societal infrastructure are having on Earth.” Sailor found herself challenged on various levels, from revisiting statistics to adjusting her mindset and taking in new ideas. For Sailor that is what makes a good class.
Advice to Incoming Students
Sailor encourages other students to get involved to make the most of their time in CEGE. “Get an internship! And join a student chapter of one of the professional societies. I joined ASCE as a freshman and recommend that to any student. You will gain experience on the professional side and have a better understanding of where to go from here. It is a great way to meet people. You will meet students who will become your peers. You will meet professors who can help you along the way. And it’s fun! It helps to take a break from academics.”
“And I will always remember my time on the competition teams—steel bridge and concrete canoe—the long hours and weekends we put in to compete! The experience was very intensive.”
Sailor has had mixed experiences due to COVID-19 and the resulting restrictions. While she is confident that the necessary knowledge is being transmitted, she does miss interacting with her classmates. She makes a point of fostering connection in her online classes. For example, even when not required, she turns her video camera on during lectures and discussions. "I like to see others and so assume it is helpful for them to see me, too. Lab sessions can be challenging. It is helpful to watch demonstrations, but it is not quite the same as doing an experiment yourself, hands-on.”
Sailor praised her professors and the efforts they are making to help students. “They put notes online and work with document cameras so that we can see how they work out problems. And, surprisingly, I have more one-on-one time with my professors. Since I can't ask questions of other students in the lounge, I go to the professors’ online office hours to ask questions.”
In her final semester, Sailor is looking forward to pulling together learning from all her classes and doing more design projects. She will be taking Capstone Design, Hydraulic Structures, and a liberal arts requirement offered through the Department of Urban Studies that will explore the impact of cities on the environment.
Renee Sailor has set a good course. CEGE and her fellow alums will be watching to see where her varied interests and developing skills will lead next!