Hello Everyone! Last week, we discussed some of our struggles while navigating through a degree in STEM and so this week we decided to talk about a highlight within our careers. For me, mine was studying abroad for a semester at the University of Birmingham in Birmingham, England!
I knew I wanted to study abroad since before entering college. However, once I arrived to Pitt, I quickly learned that studying abroad for an entire semester as an engineer may be difficult and/or impossible. While Pitt does offer shorter study abroad programs during breaks or in the summers, I was determined to study abroad for an entire semester.
The year before I planned on studying abroad I began planning and preparing. I looked up universities that partnered with Pitt and looked at each curriculum to see if they offered classes that matched ones at Pitt. I also looked up scholarship programs to help alleviate the costs of going abroad. A study abroad adviser at Pitt told me about the Gilman Scholarship Program that awarded students up to $5000 dollars if selected. I submitted a personal statement and a service project proposal and was one of the few people selected. This scholarship paid for my round-trip plane ticket as well as my accommodation while in England (my parents were so relieved). I met with my department adviser and provided him a list of classes that I wanted to take and matched them with classes that were available at Pitt. There were a couple classes that I really wanted to take while I was abroad that weren't a direct match to a course at Pitt but luckily he said they would count as special courses and gave them a special code. After submitting all application materials I waited and was granted to admission to the University of Birmingham for the Fall of 2014!
Studying abroad was such a rewarding and life changing experience. I got to meet people from all over the world which allowed me to learn more about different cultures and different parts of the world. It was my first time living off campus and not having a meal plan so I learned quickly how to manage my time and money while making sure I am eating as well as possible. I got to see what engineering is like in a different country and took courses like Artificial Intelligence and Neural Networks which I found to be really interesting and great concepts that I may decide to look into more deeply one day in the future. I even partnered with a school in New York as a Reach The World travel correspondent where I educated a classroom of fifth graders about a life and career in stem. There were times that it was frustrating and I did miss my friends at Pitt as well as my home, but I wouldn't trade that experience for anything and it has made me a stronger person as a result.
A couple key things I learned from this whole experience is that:
Difficult doesn't mean impossible: you may have to take a few extra steps and make some sacrifices, but if you want something you can make it happen if you work hard for it.
Planning is everything: You can accomplish a lot if you think a couple steps ahead.
Step out of your comfort zone: You will learn a lot about yourself.
Travel more and travel often: I've gone to quite a few places since studying abroad and plan on going to even more!
Black Girl Magic: Being able to come to my adviser with a plan and an opportunity allowed the conversation to work in my favor. As an underrepresented student in the program, your advisers want to see you succeed and navigate in all areas that you hope to.
STEM is hard but you'll eventually have moments where you feel like you're really making it and you can push through. If any of you are interested in studying abroad or are planing on applying to the Gilman Scholarship program, don't hesitate to reach out! - The Engineer