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Nuclear Engineering Student Spotlight: Melissa and Mary

Check out the interview below with Nuclear Engineering students Melissa and Mary to learn more about their experiences and how you can #BeThatEngineer.
Nuclear Engineering Student Spotlight: Melissa and Mary - Nuclear Engineering
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nuclear engineering student spotlight: melissa and mary -Meet Melissa Arcila Villegas, a nuclear engineering student from Medellin, Colombia. She is currently a junior studying at the University of New Mexico. She started her freshman year when she was only 16 years old!

When did you first hear about nuclear engineering?

I first heard about nuclear engineering in my high school physics class. I did a research report on nuclear energy, and from there I started looking into the field of nuclear engineering.

What made you choose nuclear engineering as a college major? What interested you the most about it?

I decided to go with nuclear engineering as my major because I have always been very passionate about the environment, and I knew I wanted to contribute to the research of clean energy! Now that I am more aware of other things that couldn’t be possible without nuclear engineering, it makes me very excited and happy that I picked it as my major.

Was it hard finding a college that offered nuclear engineering as a major?

I was really lucky when it came to finding a school that offered this major, since it’s not offered in every school, however, UNM is a great school with a great program that offers Nuclear Engineering!

Now that you are in college and studying nuclear engineering, what classes in school prepared you the most? What were your favorite classes in school?

Calculus and Physics classes really prepared me for the content I’m looking at right now, I was also able to take some introductory programming classes in high school that also prepared me for the classes I’m taking right now. My favorite classes were always my chemistry and physics classes. I had the best teachers in those classes and they always went above and beyond for the class to make sure we understood the content and to make it interesting for us.

Are there a lot of girls in your major at your college? How is being a girl helped you in nuclear engineering?

I was surprised to find out that there aren’t a lot of people in my major! there are very few girls in my classes, during my freshman year there were a couple more girls with me but since then some of them have switched their majors to another engineering area. There have been times where I felt like being a girl has made it difficult for me to be in nuclear engineering, however, thanks to my advisor and SWE I have been able to connect with other women in nuclear engineering. During my first year I had the amazing opportunity to have a mentor who happened to be a girl who was getting her master’s degree in nuclear engineering and I was able to learn so much from her and her experiences as a woman in this field.

When you graduate from college, what do you plan to do with your degree?

Once I graduate, I plan on getting a master’s degree in nuclear engineering. I want to take part of a research project that’s in my school. They offer graduate student research assistant positions in space nuclear power, an area that I’m really interested in. I’m also looking into an opportunity that I came across in the WE22 Annual Conference that would involve the making of nuclear reactors for the US Navy. I could also become a professor of nuclear engineering, but I hadn’t thought about it until now.

What advice do you have for our readers who may want to become engineers one day?

My advice to anyone that wants to become an engineer would be to learn and read as much as you can in the area that you’re interested in. You would be surprised by how many cool things engineers have done and what you can do in the future! On that same note, I would also like to say to broaden your mind by taking classes and reading things that don’t only appeal to engineering and science. For me, that has been the hardest and the best thing for me to do. I have been able to learn so much from things that are not in my area of study that I have been able to apply in my studies and in my life.


nuclear engineering student spotlight: melissa and mary -Meet Mary Malandra, a sophomore nuclear engineering major attending the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. She is a teaching assistant for the class Engineering Fundamentals and is the Nuclear Ambassador for the Society of Women Engineers at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville!

When did you first hear about nuclear engineering?

I first heard about nuclear engineering through the Science Bowl club that I was a part of in high school. Around my junior year, there was a retired engineer that came in and talked to us a lot about nuclear power and energy and it really interested me.

What made you choose nuclear engineering as a college major? What interested you the most about it?

Personally, I feel like it was that conversation I had with the retired engineer that made me really consider majoring in nuclear engineering in college. I really enjoyed how he explained how nuclear plants work and what he did while working at them. It really got me interested in pursuing nuclear engineering as a career.

Was it hard finding a college that offered nuclear engineering as a major?

Nuclear engineering is definitely not one of the most popular engineering majors out there, but I don’t think it was too difficult for me to find a college that offered this major. I was already looking out of state, and I noticed most state schools did offer it as well. I also already had a good idea about what kind of college I wanted to go to, so that made the process of deciding which one I wanted to attend a lot easier.

Now that you are in college and studying nuclear engineering, what classes in school prepared you the most? What were your favorite classes in school?

The classes that prepared me the most were my Calculus 1 class I took my senior year of high school, plus a lot of the science classes I took, like Chemistry and Physics. Nuclear engineering, and just engineering in general, focuses a great deal on these classes and it helped me a lot to have that knowledge beforehand when I got to college.

Are there a lot of girls in your major at your college? How is being a girl helped you in nuclear engineering?

There aren’t too many girls in my major, but you definitely can’t tell right off the bat. I’m involved in a few organizations that are made specifically for women engineers, so I don’t think that I’ve noticed how few there are mainly because of this. Being a girl in nuclear engineering has helped me meet other women in nuclear engineering and it has also helped motivate me to continue in this field, even though there are so few of us. The support I have had from other women has greatly helped me as a nuclear engineering major as well.

When you graduate from college, what do you plan to do with your degree?

I haven’t really decided what exactly I wanted to do after college. I know that I want to go into nuclear energy, but I’ve been looking into several different paths as well. I’ve considered doing research and continuing my education, but I’ve also considered possibly going straight into the field and working as a nuclear engineer at a power plant.

What advice do you have for our readers who may want to become engineers one day?

My advice to readers who may want to go into engineering one day is to definitely go and find out what you’re most passionate about. There are so many different types of engineering out there that you’ll absolutely find a certain type that fits you!

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    SWE Blog provides up-to-date information and news about the Society and how our members are making a difference every day. You’ll find stories about SWE members, engineering, technology, and other STEM-related topics.

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