Devon Goszkowicz: Following Dad's Footsteps to Engineering at Illinois
Blazing Her Own Trail in STEM Outreach

September 15, 2016

Devon Goszkowicz

Devon Goszkowicz, a junior in Engineering, didn’t attend any STEM camps or outreach activities when she was little. However, one very important person in her life—her father—was an engineer. And now, here she is at Illinois, studying to become one too. And though she didn’t attend any STEM camps or outreach activities herself when little, she currently participates in several that expose girls of all ages and backgrounds to engineering. She's hoping to not just expose them to STEM, but to help them reach their potential, and to possibly even influence them to become engineers themselves.

Goszkowicz has wanted to be an engineer ever since she was a little girl. “I think on some level, I’ve kind of always known,” she admits. It also might have something to do with the fact that Daddy is an engineer too. Not only that, her dad, currently a Navy pilot, majored in Aerospace Engineering at Illinois.

“My dad’s an engineer,” she acknowledges, “and I think from the time that I was like 5, we started building rockets and launching them in the parks.”

She recalls that as a kid, she even read books about engineers. “My 3rd grade book report, I read one of Stephen Hawking’s books. I did a book report on that, so it kind of started at a really young age.”

And because Daddy was an engineer, one would assume that she went to a bunch of STEM camps as a kid, but Goszkowicz says no.

“So because my dad was Navy, actually we moved around a lot. So every 2–3 years, we moved. And rather than going to a bunch of different summer camps, I went to a bunch of different countries. Yeah. So it’s kind of a little bit of a tradeoff. I didn’t go to as many camps as most people did over the summer, other than sports camps. GAMES camp is actually the only engineering camp I went to, at least that I can remember. But I did get to go to 35 countries before I was 16.”

So instead of STEM, she was exposed to other cultures and other languages. In fact, she says she used to be able to speak French nearly fluently, and was conversational in Japanese. But now, she says she sometimes gets mixed up: “It’s actually kind of funny, because every time I try to speak Japanese, I start speaking French. Even though I can think the Japanese words, French comes out anyways.”

Math Doesn't Suck (Image courtesy of Barnes & Noble website).

One would also assume that because she’s in engineering, she liked math as a kid. Goszkowicz reports that that took a while:

“I actually remember my mother buying me a book called Math Doesn’t Suck, when I was in 6th grade, because I hated math. Up until I got to calculus, I hated math. And that’s the main reason I kept thinking, ‘Oh, maybe I shouldn’t be an engineer!’ But then I got to calculus, and everything made sense again.”

So Goszkowicz took calculus her senior year in high school, finally fell in love with math, and now she’s studying Aerospace Engineering at Illinois just like Dad, right? Nope. She’s majoring in Material Science and Engineering (MatSE). And Goszkowicz says one reason she chose Material Science was because she didn’t want to be like dear old Dad.

“I feel like part of me was kind of pushing against, you know, exactly following my dad’s footsteps.”

Devon Goszkowicz (center) works with her teammates during a hands-on project when she was at GLAM GAMES in 2013.

In fact, because Dad had come to Illinois, she wasn’t going to. “At first, I didn’t even want to go to U of I, even though it’s a great school, because I didn’t want to be “that girl” who followed everything her parent did.”

But fate stepped in. Goszkowicz, who had never gone to any STEM outreaches, ended up participating in the 2013 GLAM GAMES camp the summer before her senior year in high school. And despite her vow to not follow dad’s footsteps to Illinois…that week was the turning point. For one, she discovered that she wanted to go into Materials Science.

“I think the 3rd day of GAMES camp for me, which was the Biomaterials day, was the day I thought ‘Oh, this is actually way cooler than chemical engineering,’" says Goszkowicz. "Because that’s what I originally wanted to do. And I think I called my mom that night and was like, 'Mom, I figured out my major; this is great!'"

While she hadn’t at that point decided to come to the University of Illinois, she had at least figured out, “Okay I want to do materials science.” But after discovering that she could get a full tuition scholarship through the military, she chose Illinois.

And she says MatSE’s ranking didn’t hurt either. “It’s #2 in the country for Material Science, so if you get in, you probably should go,” she admitted.

Devon Goszkowicz (right) works with a high school student doing 3D printing during GLAM GAMES camp.

Ironically, while it was the GAMES Biomaterials session that helped her decide on Materials Science, she actually decided not to do Biomaterials. “It was my initial thought, like, ‘Oh, this is super cool!” but then I found metals and plastics a lot more interesting once I got to the first MatSE class.”

In fact, she loves them both so much she’s thinking of doing a double concentration in both metals and polymers, or of getting her concentration in polymers and her out-of-area in metals, “because there are really cool aspects to both of them,” she admits.

Despite her full load, Goszkowicz still makes time in her busy schedule to share her love of engineering with others. Because, while she didn’t do any STEM camps as a youngster, she knows the value of exposing youngsters to STEM and of giving younger students in her field a helping hand. In fact, Goszkowicz should be nicknamed the Queen of Outreach.

This reporter first ran into her this past summer, when she was working as a lab assistant at GLAM GAMES camp. (Which makes sense, of course. While it was the only STEM camp she ever attended, it had a significant impact on her). Goszkowicz explains why she participated in the GLAM GAMES Camp this summer: "I enjoy being able to share my love of MatSE with people—especially high school students who are starting to make decisions about what to study in college."

Devon Goszkowicz (center), with the group of MatSE freshmen she mentored during WIE Orientation, visit the third floor of DCL where they are going to do an activity building and flying a paper airplane.

Then I ran into her again at the WIE Orientation. She was a mentor for a group of MatSE freshmen and was shepherding them around campus during the scavenger hunt. According to Goszkowicz, she participated in the Orientation because of the impact it had on her as a freshman:

WIE Orientation helps the freshmen women get adjusted to college life in a welcoming community of women like them. Going through WIE Orientation made the transition easier for me, and it's where I made some of my best friends in college! I am in contact with my mentors still—some have even become my close friends!"

Goszkowicz also participates in a STEM outreach for younger girls, MakerGirl, which exposes 7–10-year-old girls to 3D printing. As team manager, she makes sure the 31 volunteers are presenting correctly, and that they’re signed up for some of MakerGirl’s 18 sessions for the semester. These are held at Maker Lab in BIF on Tuesdays, some Mondays, and at weekend maker fairs held at the Maker Lab or off campus, such as at the Orpheum Children’s Museum. Her goal is to “give the girls a worthwhile experience,” she explains.  

"MakerGirl is having an extremely wide impact!" she says. "We have impacted over a thousand girls this summer alone, and are have multiple STEAM Courses this fall."

Milsa, the girl the Illinois chapter of She's the First is sponsoring (image courtesy of She's The First website

Goszkowicz is also president of the Illinois chapter of She’s The First. While not necessarily STEM-focused, this organization provides scholarships for girls in low-income countries to receive a high school education. According to Goszkowicz, “It’s called She’s The First, because usually these girls are the first ones in their families to actually receive an education.”

Milsa, the girl the Illinois chapter is currently sponsoring, is a 19-year-old from Guatemala who’s going into her senior year of high school now.

“It’s pretty amazing, actually,” says Goszkowicz. “$1,400 covers their tuition, books, tutors, room and board if they need it. Basically everything that they and their families can’t provide for themselves, we’re able to provide for them, which is so cool.”

Goszkowicz also serves as a MatSE mentor as a part of Material Advantage, MatSE’s student organization, which helps students get to know other students within their major, but also helps students professionally, via resume critiques, mock interviews, etc. As a part of this program, she is mentoring an incoming freshman throughout his or her entire first year, acting as a resource for anything the student might need.

Left to right: Yusen Ye and Devon Goszkowicz. Ye is Goszkowicz's Material Advantage mentee (photo courtesy of Devon Goszkowicz).

Not only that, but Goszkowicz also works for a company called Preemadonna making video tutorials about Material Science in the beauty industry. The videos, which she’s currently still working on, will be both informative and contain hands-on projects high school, maybe even middle school students could do to learn about Materials. Once her videos have been uploaded, she’ll act as an online tutor for students interested in Material Science, answering any questions they might have about her videos.

Devon Goszkowicz (left), chats with a recruiter at the recent Engineering Career Fair.

So with graduation two years or so away, what are Goszkowicz’s plans once she gets her degree? Industry? School?

“Industry,” she replies, without a moment’s hesitation. “I need a break from school. Maybe I’ll go back, but not immediately. I need to work a little bit and kind of experience the different side of life before I continue more school.”

And ironically, despite her earlier assertion that she wasn’t going to follow in her dad’s footsteps, the company that Goszkowicz would like to work for, Orbital ATK, is—you guessed it—an aerospace company. In fact, Goszkowicz has pretty much resigned herself to the fact that in many ways, following in dad’s footsteps is exactly what she’s doing, and she’s ok with that. “But as you can see, I want to work for an aerospace company right now. I kind of am following in his footsteps.”

But isn’t she in the wrong department if she wants to work in aerospace? Shouldn’t she be in Aerospace Engineering, like Dad? She says no.

Devon Goszkowicz by Alma Mater

“Actually, the versatility of materials science is one of the reasons I chose the major—because I’ve never had a specific career goal that I wanted. I just wanted to have options. And material science, I think, gives you probably the widest range of options out of all the engineering majors that I’ve seen. Because no matter what product you’re making, if you’re making a product, you need to have materials to do that.”

However, despite having picked out the company, Goszkowicz still isn’t really sure as of yet what her ultimate career goals are. “I really like the entrepreneurship side of engineering,” she admits, “but there’s so many options, I’m not sure what I want yet.” However, she is looking to get an internship next summer that will help her “narrow things down.”

Devon Goszkowicz (center) and a GLAM GAMES camper enjoy a 3D printing activity.

The one thing she does know for sure: whatever she does for a career, she wants to make a difference. According to Goszkowicz, her dream job would be: “Some job where I feel like I’m accomplishing something every day that’ll better the life of somebody. So whether that’s making an improvement on airplane designs to make it more safe, or making plastics more biodegradable, something where I feel like I’ve accomplished something every day of work.”

And despite Goszkowicz’s earlier reservations regarding emulating her father, she is apparently glad she did follow her father’s footsteps to Illinois, and believes she is definitely being well prepared for the future.

“I don’t think any other university could have given me the same experience. Just between exposure with all these start-ups I’ve worked for; the labs that we’re taking. The lab reports are time consuming, but, honestly, the labs themselves are very invaluable because they give us exposure to so many different instruments. Yeah, it’s awesome.”

With the Engineering Career Fair being the day after our interview, it was definitely on her mind. She adds, “I love going to career fairs, even though it’s a little bit scary at times, but it feels really rewarding to be able to talk to people from your potential employers.”

And always in outreach mode, she makes one final appeal, encouraging any girls who are considering careers in engineering to go for it.

Devon Goszkowicz outside the MatSE building

“Go into engineering,” she says. “If you’re thinking about it try it. You might decide that it’s not for you, and that’s okay, but at least give it a shot. Because you might find out that you like it, or you love it, and that’s what you want to do forever.”

Story and photos (unless otherwise noted) by Elizabeth Innes, Communications Specialist, I-STEM Education Initiative

For additional I-STEM articles about some of the activities above, see:

For more related stories, see: Engineering, GAMES, GLAM, Illinois Legacies, MakerGirl, MatSE, STEM Pipeline, Student Spotlight, WIE, Women in STEM, 2016

Devon (third from the left) and the rest of her team exhibit the solar collector they built during an activity at the 2013 GLAM GAMES camp.