Alumni Feature: Kathryn Svoboda BSME '11
Q+A WITH KAT SVOBODA
What influenced your decision to attend the University of Illinois? How did you decide that mechanical engineering was the best fit for you?
I received some very good feedback regarding the University of Illinois from some engineers who mentored me when I was in high school. They specifically commented on U of I engineers' ability to continue learning and hands-on, practical knowledge. My decision to apply to and eventually attend U of I surprised my parents, who are both U of I alumni, as it was one of the largest universities that I considered, and I had never lived in Illinois until starting college.
I always enjoyed creating and building things when I was younger—everything from a jewelry box to a tree house. In high school, I was very active on my school's robotics team. The team I was on allowed me early exposure to engineering, including being mentored by engineers. I enjoyed the experience of the teamwork and the experience of combining math and science with hands-on creation. There was little doubt in my mind after my freshman year of high school that I wanted to pursue a degree in mechanical engineering.
What are some of your most memorable experiences from your time as a student at Illinois?
Somewhere in the monotony of a lot of late nights finishing homework and labs, I managed to have some pretty memorable experiences.
I met Grant Imahara from Mythbusters as part of an EOH event. For classes, I watched the jaws of life in action on a junk car, I tore down and rebuilt an engine, and I watched some of my professors serenade their students with blues and rock songs. As part of my extracurricular activities, I got to partake in many tiring but fun road trips, move a CNC mill from MEL to ESPL. I was able to study abroad in Buenos Aires. And I definitely met amazing friends during my time at U of I.
How have you used your ME degree in your career?
My ME degree has been a great platform to start working from. It's a great credential to have, and perhaps more importantly, my experiences that I gained in the process of getting my degree have been instrumental in the work I do now and how I interact with colleagues. I am an engineer, and I use something I learned while I was in college daily.
What motivates you, as an alumnus, to give to MechSE?
Part of my motivation comes from my experiences as the Captain of the Baja team and as an Executive Board member of Pi Tau Sigma. I was aware of the impact of alumni that contributed either with their time or finances to the department after graduating. I understand the struggle of trying to gather enough money through the university and sponsors to fund projects and events.
Baja is like a (very cool) family; when I was on the team, we were able to call alumni for advice and information. I had contacts who graduated years before I even participated on the team. The Baja alumni are very involved in the program—we come out to support the team at events, drive days, and even stop by the workshop to check on progress when we are in town. I have learned so much from those who came before me that I want to pass on to those who are involved and will be involved.
Do you prefer your donations to be mostly in the form of your time, your talent, or your treasure?
What I give depends very much on the needs of the organization, and how I can personally contribute to those needs. What I have found with the MechSE department is that I would prefer to give some combination of the three. Contributing on a personal level can be more valuable than just writing a check.
What thoughts would you share with other MechSE alumni about giving back?
I would encourage them to not only do innovative and forward-thinking work, but to do as much as possible to inspire positive growth in STEM fields, particularly in engineering, in the future generations. My future success is in part determined by the alumni and other adults who have and continue to mentor me.