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Aerospace Engineering's Katie Carroll: Poised to Explore Andromeda…and Beyond

September 17, 2019

Katie Carroll by Alma Mater during her May 2019 graduation from Aerospace Engineering.
Katie Carroll by Alma Mater during her May 2019 graduation from Aerospace Engineering.

When someone graduates, it’s usually a poignant mix of nostalgic reflection on the past and a hopeful gaze into the future. In May 2019, Katie Carroll graduated from Aerospace Engineering. And just as this writer couldn’t help but do an article about Carroll’s voyage down the STEM pipeline when she was a freshman, I felt it was only fitting that I close the chapter on her time at Illinois with a walk down memory lane, looking at the things she considered most significant in her past, and a bit of a look into what’s in her future.

Aeronautical Engineering freshman Katie Carroll in fall 2015.
Aeronautical Engineering freshman Katie Carroll in fall 2015.

I first met Katie Carroll when she was a newbie—a freshman in Aerospace Engineering at Illinois. However, although a rookie, she was probably more familiar with campus than most freshmen. For one, her mom and dad were both Illinois alums who not only got their Bachelor’s, but their Master’s and Ph.D. degrees from Aerospace Engineering at Illinois.

Left to right: Freshman Katie Carroll with her mom, Professor Victoria Coverstone
Left to right: Freshman Katie Carroll with her mom, Professor Victoria Coverstone.

And, of course, as a kid, she spent lots of time in her mom’s office in Talbott; her mom was a professor in Aerospace at Illinois. (As an aside, her mom is no longer at Illinois, but is the Head of the Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Department at the University of Miami.) So rather than heading back to the gray skies and frigid cold of an Illinois winter during winter break, she’ll be heading for sunny (hopefully) Florida. “So I guess we aren't really as close to each other as we were freshman year,” Carroll admits, “but visiting Miami isn't all that bad!”)

Of course, growing up in Champaign-Urbana, she was a regular at EOH (Engineering Open House) on campus and spent many a fun afternoon at the Orpheum Children’s Science Museum in Champaign. But the visit to Illinois that pretty much sealed the deal was attending Aerospace GAMES camp her senior year. “That definitely was a huge influence in getting me to pursue engineering,” she reports. And she did. At Illinois. In Aerospace, of course.

Katie Carroll prepares to pilot a small prop plane during G.A.M.E.S. camp in the summer of 2014. (Photo courtesy of Katie Carroll.)
Katie Carroll prepares to pilot a small prop plane during G.A.M.E.S. camp in the summer of 2014. (Photo courtesy of Katie Carroll.)

 

As I mentioned above, with such a feel-good story right in my backyard, I couldn’t pass up doing an article about Carroll her freshman year. And while I probably figured that would be the last time I’d see her (Illinois is a pretty big place), everywhere I went, I seemed to bump into Carroll doing outreach of some sort, such as at the FIRST Lego Championship or the Illinois Space Day. In fact, she even showed up this past August (three months after graduating) at the WIE (Women in Engineering) Orientation to plug a video she’d help make about female engineering students at Illinois.

According to Carroll, one of the most challenging things she faced during college was balancing her time commitments, “Especially when things got tough,” she admits. “There are so many ways of getting yourself involved on campus that it can become a real challenge learning how to spend your time doing things that you both enjoy and find valuable.”

Carroll remembers a specific time when she found balancing her time to be incredibly challenging. She was struggling in a core aerospace course during her junior year and remembers knowing that the only way that she would be able to improve her performance in the course would be to seek extra help through office hours and TA practice sessions. However, both of these times conflicted with her other extracurricular activities.

Katie Carroll (right) back on campus for Women in Engineering Orientation in fall 2019, where she helped introduce a video she helped make about women in engineering during her senior year at Illinois.
Katie Carroll (right) back on campus for Women in Engineering Orientation in fall 2019, where she helped introduce a video she helped make about women in engineering during her senior year at Illinois.

 

“It was very challenging for me to not just limit my involvement in other activities that I really enjoyed,” she acknowledges, “but also find more time to devote to my academics, especially during this particular semester.” While she acknowledges that time management is a continual challenge, she reports, “I am happy to have found a better balance to overcome this so that by my senior year, I was able to both be a student and develop my hobbies, all while figuring out what my next step after undergrad would be.” 

Carroll says that one of the most influential aspects of her years as an undergraduate student was becoming part of the inaugural class of Brooke Owens Fellows. This is a national internship and mentorship program for female students interested in the aviation and aerospace industries. Carroll became a Brooke Owens fellow in fall 2017, after her sophomore year. “I truly couldn't imagine going through college without having this incredible network of women by my side,” she says.

Katie Carroll (right) does an activity with young visitors at Illinois Space Day in fall 2018.
Katie Carroll (right) does an activity with young visitors at Illinois Space Day in fall 2018.

According to Carroll, one of her favorite memories at Illinois was being an Engineering Learning Assistant (or ELA) for Grainger College of Engineering students during her junior and senior years in college. In this role, she taught and mentored 22 Engineering freshmen as a part of Engineering 100. The course, a requirement for Engineering freshmen, gives them an overview of the engineering disciplines and provides peer mentoring by older engineering students to get them started on the right foot in school. While the course only lasts the first 8 weeks of the fall semester, Carroll reports, “The connections that I made with these students lasted far longer than just this class.”

 Katie Carroll next to campus icon, Grainger Bob, who keeps an eye on Bardeen Quad while seated in a bench just south of Grainger Library.
Katie Carroll next to campus icon, Grainger Bob, who keeps an eye on Bardeen Quad while seated in a bench just south of Grainger Library.

In fact, she shares an anecdote about one of her students her senior year. He came to her at the beginning of the fall 2018 semester with the goal of securing an internship the summer after his freshman year. “I reminded him that while not impossible, it would likely be a challenging endeavor,” Carroll recalls, “but this student was determined to persevere.” After many resume revisions, rigorous interview preparation, and attending the Fall 2018 Engineering Career Fair, she reports that the student came to her later that semester indicating that he had found an internship.

“I remember the gratifying feeling—that this student had felt comfortable enough to have me help support him throughout this entire process—and that this was a real example of how the peer mentorship that this course introduced extended far beyond the eight weeks. I really enjoyed seeing how happy this student was after accomplishing this goal that he had set for himself, and I really appreciated being part of this experience.”

How has Illinois prepared her for what likes ahead? “In more ways than are quantifiable,” she admits.

Carroll says the undergraduate research opportunities available on campus prepared her for what to expect and got her excited about going to grad school. She also says that securing internship opportunities has helped prepare her for the aerospace industry she’ll be entering in a few years. “I couldn't be more thankful for all of the resources that are available for students at Illinois,” she says. 

While getting some photos by Alma Mater during her May 2019 graduation, Katie Carroll shows off the decoration she made for her cap that revals one possible goal for her future: "To Andromeda and Beyond."
While getting some photos by Alma Mater during her May 2019 graduation, Katie Carroll shows off the decoration she made for her cap that revals one possible goal for her future: "To Andromeda and Beyond."

What’s in Carroll’s future? While she followed in Mom and Dad’s footsteps to Illinois for her Bachelor’s degree, she’s taking a bit of a detour for the next leg of her journey—to MIT. This fall, she entered the Master's program in the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics there, where she’ll be working with Professor Oliver de Weck in his Engineering Systems Lab.


Author/Photographer: Elizabeth Innes, Communications Specialist, I-STEM Education Initiative.

For another article about Katie Carroll, see:

More: Aerospace Engineering, Illinois Legacies, STEM Pipeline, Student Spotlight, 2019


Katie Carroll visits her mom, Victoria Coverstone, in her mom's office at Talbot Lab during her freshman year at Illinois.