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December 6, 2017

Get ready to be a Badger engineer

Written By: Will Cushman

Preview days offer glimpse of college life for admitted students

By Will Cushman

What better way is there to learn about the college experience than to experience a little bit of college?

Hundreds of high school seniors admitted into the University of Wisconsin-Madison College of Engineering each spring get to do just that, thanks to the college’s Admitted Student Preview Days.

Each preview day offers admitted engineering students (and their guests) a unique opportunity to spend a day on campus and to decide if UW-Madison is the school for them. During the day, they get up close and personal with current students and faculty and have the opportunity to meet their peers, new friends and mentors.

For current faculty and students, the event provides an opportunity to showcase their departments and organizations; for admitted students, the day gives them a chance to ask questions, size up programs and get a feel for what it’s like to be a Badger engineer.

The day is both informative and fun. Departments and student organizations alike deliver cool demonstrations and elevator pitches designed to pique attendees’ interest.

But a lot of the exciting aspects of life as an engineering student at UW-Madison speak for themselves.

That’s certainly the case at the student organization fair, where groups like the Badgerloop team showed off their engineering wizardry. Badgerloop is one of 30 teams worldwide competing to develop a levitating pod for SpaceX’s Hyperloop transportation system. The Badgerloop team’s pod is an impressive piece of machinery, especially considering that students designed and built it. The black and red angular dome-shaped vehicle loomed over captivated students in the Mechanical Engineering lobby. Its futuristic look gave the event a sci-fi feel, even as members of the Badgerloop team explained the very real science that inspired their technological feat.

“As we’ve been talking to prospective students and their guests, they’ve seemed kind of wowed by the technology that we’re able to work with on campus,” said Justin Trimmer, a senior in electrical and computer engineering and member of the Badgerloop team, at a spring preview day. “We want to show them how cool it is that we can expose ourselves to so many different types of engineering here and also that students are able to build these amazing technologies just by themselves with some faculty advising.”

It’s all about putting theory into practice, according to Trimmer, which is a hallmark of College of Engineering student life.

Beth Enright, a mechanical engineering sophomore, shares in this belief. Enright attended the student organization fair as a representative of Engineers Without Borders (EWB), an international nonprofit group of engineers who volunteer their time and skills to assist infrastructure projects in developing countries.

“Our organization gives students the opportunity to do real, hands-on engineering work in developing countries,” Enright explained to visitors to the EWB booth.

In January 2017, Enright joined other engineers in Uganda, where she assisted in drilling for a clean water system for a primary school. The experience was a transformative one for Enright, who emphasized the unique opportunities EWB provides students who want to travel, do service and improve the quality of life for others while honing their engineering skills.

Admitted students also have the chance to check out engineering academic departments and spend time with faculty. Each department holds an open house, which includes an overview of its majors, what makes them unique, and how degrees in those fields are valuable—as well as lab tours and other hands-on experiences. For instance, John Puccinelli, associate chair of the undergraduate program in biomedical engineering (BME), described the program’s unique approach, which includes design courses every year of BME students’ education.

“What we do is use tools from other disciplines in engineering and apply those tools to solve problems in biology and medicine,” Puccinelli told prospective students, describing how biomedical engineers work on problems from the atomic level to the whole human body system.

Assisted by current students, Puccinelli described some of the possibilities for research in BME, including opportunities to develop new medical devices or breakthrough treatments for cancer and other diseases. Students not only heard about these possibilities, but could see, touch and interact with devices developed by BME students and faculty, including a new-generation hip replacement ball joint.

In addition to learning about academic life on campus, admitted students also have the opportunity to learn about extracurricular and social life in Madison straight from the most trusted source—current students. Each preview day includes a panel of current students who answer questions on topics ranging from balancing school and Greek life to dealing with Wisconsin winters and a huge campus to how to go about selecting a major and finding internships and jobs.

“You should really try to be proactive,” mechanical engineering senior Drew Berkhout told a group of prospective students. “There are a lot of resources on campus and a lot of good intro to engineering classes, and you have to find what works best for you.”

And, think about what job you want the whole time, added geological engineering senior Lauren Abrahams. “Go to every career fair, even as a freshman,” she said. “That’s how you’ll get internships, and you’ll be able to figure out what you do and don’t like.”

And for everyone who attends the preview days, it’s easy to like the grand finale: The solid practical advice, in good old Wisconsin fashion, is promptly followed by a pep rally led by none other than Bucky Badger.