“Because of the independence and leadership experience I’ve gained during my time in the program, I now feel like I can handle whatever challenge is set before me.”
When Rachael Anderson talks about her new job as a test engineer for diesel engine manufacturer Cummins Incorporated, she cites her time pursuing an undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering at UK as a period of preparation and transformation. Whether it was grueling coursework, demanding professors or employment through the Cooperative Education Program, Rachael credits each component with playing a significant role in her technological training and personal growth.
“Because of the independence and leadership experience I’ve gained during my time in the program, I now feel like I can handle whatever challenge is set before me,” says Rachael.
While Rachael expected the coursework to be difficult, she discovered early in the program that the curriculum would push her time management skills to the limit. “Interviewers would ask whether or not I could handle pressure. I could confidently say yes because the course load prepared me for the pressure I’m going to experience every day.”
In addition to the normal rigors of academic life, Rachael was repeatedly challenged by professors like Dr. Patrick Poole who wouldn’t settle for mediocrity. “Dr. Poole was the hardest professor I had,” laughs Rachael. “He was honest, brutal and wouldn’t baby anyone…but I took three of his classes because I appreciated being pushed to learn the material—to not just be able to memorize or regurgitate it, but really apply it.”
But while most engineering students encounter arduous class requirements and tough-minded professors, not everyone is afforded the opportunity to take what they are learning in the classroom to a live working environment—and get paid for it! Rachael’s participation in the Cooperative Education Program enabled her to do just that through rotations at GE Aviation and L’Oreal. The experience cast new light on her classroom studies. “After a rotation in the co-op program, I could relate a lot more to the material in my manufacturing classes.”
Because rotations in the co-op program typically extend a student’s education to a fifth year, not every engineering student considers participation a no-brainer. Rachael, on the other hand, strongly believes that for her, the benefits outweigh the cons. “Co-op students are paid on a much higher level than most other college jobs, which really helped me support my education beyond what I received in scholarships. Plus, as a co-op student, finding a job was exponentially easier than students who weren’t in the program.”
Not only did Rachael land a job prior to graduating, she is on a career path with Cummins Incorporated made possible by the diversity of the mechanical engineering program. While she will begin as a test engineer, her degree will give her plenty of options if she decides to pursue design or even management. “Mechanical engineering opens up a lot of choices,” says Rachael, “Because of the diversity of the field, I know I’m not going to be unhappy with my degree choice.”