Spotlight on MechSE freshman Paula Stocco
Major: Mechanical Engineering
Involvement: ASME (American Society of Mechanical Engineers), Alternative Winter Break, and Undergraduate Research
Hometown: Oak Park, IL
How have your engineering classes been so far?
"One of my favorites was ME 170 last semester, a class where we learned CAD. I was partnered with a close friend of mine. We had a lot of fun designing the final product. We took safety glasses and put windshield wipers on them, so they’d remain clear when it rains. We’d just go into the lab and play with the design and it was a great learning experience."
What was your experience with IEFX Summer Scholars?
"I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything else. It was great because I met my best friend. It was such a tight knit group and so when we started school in the fall, I felt at home already."
How did you get your position at the research lab?
"I actually learned about undergraduate research through the IEFX program. During fall semester, I read the research papers of our mechanical engineering professors. I started in the lab this semester with Professor Kimani Toussaint after contacting him. The lab’s research is in nanophotonics. The work concerns particle trapping (using the momentum of photons to hold subatomic particles). The other half of the lab work is in biophotonics which uses light to image organic material.
"As an undergrad, some students stay with one lab their whole time. Other students might decide to try other labs throughout their undergraduate time and that’s okay. It can help you figure out what you like and help with career choices."
What are you involved with outside of the classroom?
"I helped set up a trip to North Carolina as project coordinator for the alternative winter break program. We volunteered at a tiger rescue sanctuary, which was super cool. I believe North Carolina was originally one of eight states that allowed exotic animals as pets. Many animals have been abandoned or come from other sanctuaries that had to close down. At this place, they had tigers, lions, cougars, ocelots, and just beautiful creatures. We helped with raising fences, chopping wood, laid down some road, built fire pits, and hauled some trees. It was really fun."
Why mechanical engineering?
"I really like problem-solving and cracking things open. I like figuring things out. I'm more of hands-on person."
What drew you to Engineering at Illinois?
"At first it seemed like just a big school. But I realized during the summer that engineering is a really tight knit community. It’s possible to make a big school small if you interact and reach out. There’s always something going on."
Best piece of advice you’ve received about college?
"My dad told me, 'When you first start out, study as much as possible. Then you’ll learn how to study less.'"
What advice you would you give to a high school student?
"I think it depends on the individual. One of the reasons I do well here is because I like being in big situations. I like Illinois because it’s loud and passionate.
"Engineering is big here in that no one wants to see you fail, and they’ll help you. If you go out for help, you will receive it. But know that you have to put effort into this if you want to get something out. I’m so happy I chose engineering and it’s something that I look forward to doing the rest of my life."