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Graduating scientists and engineers stay the path

Seven CSE students reflect on college experiences and their futures

This spring, more than 1,000 students officially graduated from the College of Science and Engineering at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities via virtual Commencement—only the second of its kind in the college’s history.

"[Graduating] feels a little anticlimactic," said David Ma, a double major in computer science and math, and president of the Science and Engineering Student Board. "Not many expected the pandemic to last more than a year."

Yet, Ma and his peers in the Class of 2021 persevered.

They’re staying in Minnesota or scattering across the United States—and perhaps even the world, when borders open up again. Some have started full-time jobs, like chemical engineering major Alexis Bern, a recipient of the CSE Marvin and Christine Ballard Scholarship, and former president of the U of M Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers. She landed a position in Ohio with Procter & Gamble, the global company known for iconic brands such as Pampers, Tide, Charmin, and Gillette.

“It was a very big relief when I got the offer… it’s been a tough year,” said Bern.

A few CSE graduates are taking a rewarding break after feeling burnt out from Zoom classes. Others are preparing for grad school or the military.

Hannah Pichman will take her newly acquired degree in materials science to a Ph.D. program in Illinois this fall. Her goal for now is to become a professor—and she credits CSE faculty for the inspiration.

“I love every professor I’ve had,” she said. “It would be really awesome to be able to combine doing research with teaching students, and be that mentor and advisor to them.”

The 2021 CSE graduation video, featuring a few of the seniors in this article, was shown among other pre-recorded videos and live speeches at most of the department celebrations.

Unlike their peers in 2020, however, the Class of 2021 had the option to participate in masked, socially distanced in-person department celebrations. The 15 events, held over four days at McNamara Alumni Center, were live streamed for friends and family.

Robert Halverson, an aerospace engineering and mechanics major, was among those seized this opportunity. In fact, Halverson—the first in his family to attend college—was one of the two invited student speakers at his department’s celebration.

“I’m thankful for the people here—students, faculty and advisor alike. They are what make this home, not the buildings and not the rockets [we studied or built]… ,” he said in his speech on May 10.

“This whole thing may not have ended the way we envisioned,” Halverson added, but I urge you to remember the lows and highs, and to remember each other and our successes.”

This summer, Halverson is off to Colorado for an internship with satellite company Blue Canyon Technologies. After that, he plans to return to the U of M for a master’s degree in aerospace engineering.

Tanmay Agarwal is sticking around Minneapolis. The computer science major landed his role engineering position with the agricultural tech startup Sentera just a few months before graduating. Once he settles in his job, Agarwal—a recipient of the CSE Hopper-Dean Scholarship Honoring Dr. Vipin Kumar and the U of M Scholarly Excellence in Equity and Diversity (SEED) Award—hopes to revive “Undergraduate AI,” the podcast he started in 2020, in which he interviews researchers about their careers.

It can be very easy to think about pathways to ‘landing a job in big tech,’ but I felt that the stories of the people that truly make the incremental innovations that move the world ahead ought to be shared with the same vigor,” Agarwal said.

Like Halverson, Marie Wulff will also look to the skies. Wulff, who majored in electrical engineering and aspires to run for the U.S. senate, is headed to Planet Labs, an Earth imaging company in San Francisco.

“You learn a lot of really important skills in CSE, like reasoning, critical thinking, and analysis,” she said.

“Nothing scares me now. I feel very prepared to take on any sort of challenge at this point,” said Wulff, a recipient of multiple scholarships, including the U of M Brian L. Fitterer Scholarship and CSE Roger Nordby Electrical Engineering Scholarship.

For chemistry major Megan Cahill, the path to graduating hasn’t been easy. She nearly dropped out of school her freshman year, but she kept at it.

“Coming here at 18, I did not know what I wanted,” said Cahill, recipient of a U of M 2021 President’s Student Leadership and Service Award and CSE’s E. Reuben and Gladys Flora Grant Scholarship. “What CSE gave me is this opportunity to explore so many different aspects of science and chemistry, and the groundwork to do so.”

In addition to jumping on leadership and research opportunities, Cahill invested her time at the college in advocacy—she was the first undergraduate student to join the CSE Diversity and Inclusivity (D&I) Alliance. After all she’s been through, Cahill says finding her own identity was one of the best parts of her journey at the University of Minnesota.

“There’s something special about the U of M and what it offers students,” she said.

Read more about these 2021 graduating seniors and their U of M experiences:  

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