Extracurricular Involvement Leads to Post-Graduate Success
Whether she’s helping to develop self-driving vehicles or creating complicated software programs to improve communication, honors alum Sarah Agnalt ’18 helps enable soldiers on the field to do their jobs every day. Since graduating, the electrical engineering alum has been working at General Dynamics, a global aerospace and defense company, as a part of a development team that networks with the military.
While working with software and learning how to program using MATLAB in her rigorous engineering classes at RWU gave her the technical skills she needed, she credits her extracurricular involvement for giving her the tools she needed to succeed post-graduation. Agnalt says her participation in faculty research and RWU's chapter of the Society of Women Engineers gave her hands-on preparation for the engineering industry.
The Society of Women Engineers allowed Agnalt to hold an executive position as a freshman, lead a Girl Scout workshop on physics and attend regional and national conferences. Through these conferences she met many professionals in the engineering industry, leading her to land an internship with Raytheon, which allowed her to develop an interest in working within the defense industry.
“Getting this job [at General Dynamics] wouldn’t have been possible with the Society of Women Engineers,” Agnalt said. “The club enabled me to network, meet people at the company and get to know the company to really figure out where I fit in.”
When Agnalt was approached with an opportunity to help develop an autonomous vehicle at General Dynamics, she knew she was in the right place. She was able to draw from a previous research project where she assisted former professor of engineering Benjamin McPheron in designing an autonomous vehicle that could navigate successfully through an obstacle course for a senior design project.
However, it wasn’t just the engineering coursework that helped Agnalt enter the real world. As a member of RWU’s Honors Program, she collaborated and shared ideas with students across majors. Through the program, students don’t just look at what they’re doing in their fields, but also how they are affecting others in the community and world around them.
For her Honor’s senior capstone project, she developed an air pollution monitoring device that would take measurements of the air quality around you. Her engineering background allowed her to consider the technical aspects of how the machine would work and how it would be built. But it was through the Honors program that made her think about and question who would be using it, why and when would they use it and whether or not they could they afford it.
“Honors would take what you were doing in your major and make you think harder about the outside world and how you’re connecting with people physically,” Agnalt said. “It’s not just developing an air pollution detector – you’re developing something that could really affect other people’s lives.”
These Honors program components are reflected in Agnalt’s ability to collaborate with her development team to create programs that will best benefit the military personnel when they are out in the field.
Learning the technical skills of your field is important, but college is about more than just your studies, Agnalt says. It was from getting involved and thinking beyond the scope of her classes that allowed Agnalt to experience the impact of the engineering field before graduating.
“Take advantage of the different clubs and opportunities outside the classes,” Agnalt advises incoming students. “While the classes are great, it was because of the Society of Women Engineers and other clubs I was a part of that really shaped me and my passion for engineering. It’s what has helped me see myself and my career as an engineer.”