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Engineering Week: Karen González

February 20, 2019

Karen González

Karen González

Major: Mechanical Engineering (NIU graduation anticipated May 2020)

NIU Engineering at RVC program

Hometown: Poplar Grove, IL

High school: North Boone High School, Class of 2018

How has education influenced your life and future plans?

I grew up in Mexico. I went to a bilingual school where I learned English. At 13, I moved to the U.S. for my father’s job. It was a culture shock because of the language barrier. Because of the four years I went to a bilingual school and English classes I had to take, I was able to communicate with others, but I still wasn’t as fluent as everyone around me. That intimidated me. Thanks to my teachers and parents, I learned not be scared and to talk with people. I became more fluent in English.

After almost 6 years of studying in the U.S, education has definitely improved my writing and communication skills with others, which I know will definitely help in the work field later on. 

I’ve also taken my education as an opportunity to prepare myself for my career. I’ve learned to do assignments on time, put out ideas for projects, and I’ve also learned the importance of time management (something that I still haven’t figured out completely). I have also learned to work with others, which has improved my leadership skills.

How did you first discover engineering as a profession?

My dad is an electronics engineer. That’s how I discovered engineering. I would play around with little things at home that would break. My dad would tell me not to touch them, but I did anyway because I wanted to fix them and figure out how they worked. That influenced me to become an engineer.

I discovered Rock Valley College’s (RVC) Running Start program in high school. I could take college classes at RVC and get my Associate of Arts, Science or Engineering by the time I graduated from high school. My dad told me to go for the Associate of Engineering. I took the classes and liked it a lot. I decided to stay.

Have you already finished your associate degree?

Yes, I completed my Associate of Engineering degree from RVC at the same time I finished high school.

How did you hear about the NIU Engineering @ RVC Program?

I heard about the program in a presentation by NIU during my RVC classes. I also saw a poster in the engineering building at RVC. I thought the program was a good idea. I talked with my parents and an NIU professor, and it sounded very convenient. There was an info session at Rock Valley with an opportunity to apply for free to NIU, so I did. I was accepted.

What are some of the major benefits of the program for you?

I didn’t have to get to know a new campus. I still see my Rock Valley professors and ask them for suggestions. Also, our NIU professor has his office at Rock Valley, so it’s very convenient. He’s there on campus outside of his assigned office hours. I also appreciate not having to commute to NIU in DeKalb, which saves money and gas.

So far, what have been the most challenging obstacles you’ve faced, and how have you worked to overcome them?

I saw the difference between a community college-level class and a university-level class. When I did the RVC Running Start Program and took community college classes, they were more fast-paced than high school classes. I had to be more independent. With university-level courses, I must be even more independent. For example, there might be things we talk about in class, but that’s not necessarily on the test. I have to read. I follow along in my book during the lecture, where I can see definitions and details on what the professor is presenting.

Another challenge has been time management. I still do some things last minute, but I’ve learned to organize myself. I set time limits and finish things faster.

So far, what has been your favorite class, and why?

That’s a good question! I like a little bit of every class, but my favorite has been Material Science because there is a lab. I’ve seen applications of what we’ve learned in lab. I can relate to this class the most because we talk about how materials act in the real world.

So far, how do you feel the program has prepared you to be an engineer?

In a lot of our classes, especially Mechanism Design, we’ve looked at real-world applications of what we’re learning to prepare for working in the field. Some professors say, “you have to learn this now, but in the field, you’re going to have programs that do this for you.” Doing it by hand and understanding how we’re going to apply it later is helpful.

Have you had an internship yet?

I’m currently not in an internship.  I’m hoping to hear back from where I applied.

Do you have an idea yet of your career path after graduation?

Not really. I don’t have a firm plan. I’d like to work in a company where I can apply what I’ve learned in Mechanical Engineering and look into environmental technologies, too.

Would you recommend the program to other students, and why?

I would definitely recommend it because it’s very convenient. I would say “Go for it!” The teachers here are very available to you. There’s also the convenience of having local internships. We have a person at RVC who help the NIU students here find internships.

It’s also nice to make connections at Rock Valley and carry those over to the NIU Engineering @ RVC program. All my classmates and friends from Rock Valley are now in the program, so we all study together, play games together between classes, and help each other.

Another advantage is the events, such as job fairs, where representatives of local companies come and talk about what they do and the internships available. Students get to know the local companies.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

I think that people shouldn’t be scared to challenge themselves. People often think, “What if I end up failing?” I believe you learn from failure. It doesn’t mean that it’s the end of the world and you’ll never recover from it. You need to get up and keep going because that’s how life is. I was also scared, but I know that I’ve learned a lot.