Student Speakers: Courtney Wilt, Zane Shreve

Courtney Wilt

Courtney Wilt

Good evening faculty, family, friends, and most importantly my fellow graduates. I am honored to stand before you today to share this memorable and exciting experience with you all.

It’s hard to believe this day is finally upon us, but for our graduating class of 2018 it’s time to begin the next chapter in our lives. When I look back at the last four years, I’m struck by how much I’ve changed as a person--how much each and every one of us has evolved from the jittery freshmen we once were at orientation into such confident, qualified people. And while the transformation we’ve all gone through is something to appreciate, I’m also struck by the things that haven’t changed--the things about us that brought us to engineering and computing in the first place and that keep us invested in what we do. More than anything, we all possess an intrinsic curiosity.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been a curious kid. It was my mom who helped me develop into the woman I am today—she was and is my role model, showing me that it’s possible to be a loving mother, supportive friend, and successful professional, without having to compromise. But I also grew up the daughter of a high school chemistry teacher, which meant I spent a lot of summer afternoons cleaning glassware and filing papers in my dad’s classroom. While a part of me dreaded spending these precious summer hours in the confines of a school, I remember being completely captivated when my dad pulled out his lab demos. I watched, awestruck, as he performed small miracles before my very eyes--potions fizzed, gels ballooned to fifty times their original size, crystal clear concoctions turned to vivid colors. At this point  in my life I had come to the conclusion that chemistry was magic, and that my dad had all sorts of magician’s secrets up his sleeve.

Some people think that all of the fun of a magic trick comes from the unknown, from the suspended disbelief. But I’ve always been much more interested in the notion of how something works-- the understanding is more compelling than the mystery. As I began to learn about the theory behind my dad’s demonstrations, my interest in the flashy spectacle gave way to my fascination for the explanation. Chemistry explains how the world behaves on an unfathomably small scale, and the beauty of chemical engineering is that we get to take this understanding and apply it in big ways. That’s something all of us have in common: solving real problems. We take our natural propensity for tinkering, for testing, for experimenting and questioning, and we use it to improve the world we live in. All of us in the College of Engineering and Computing have passions for understanding, for getting to the bottom of things, for figuring out the how and the why and not just the what. We were the kind of kids who took apart the remote control just to figure out the wiring, who built towering Lego structures to push the limits of physics--the kinds of kids who got genuinely excited about the science fair. That’s a passion that has only developed as we’ve grown into the people we are today, and manifests itself in our chosen field. Whether it be the complexities of machinery or the ability to communicate massive amounts of information with just 0s and 1s, each flavor of engineering teaches us not only what happens, but why and how it happens as well. In our pursuit of understanding, we are pushed to face intense academic challenges, and a curriculum that seems at times merciless. We wouldn’t put ourselves through the countless late nights (and even more cups of coffee) if we didn’t have a passion driving us to achieve. Throughout it all, it’s our curiosity that pushes us to persevere.

Coming to Miami, I’ve been so fortunate to learn the value of asking questions. I have learned not to settle for scratching the surface, but to dive headfirst into a daunting problem. I’ve learned the value of being frustrated and having to struggle. More than anything I’ve learned the value of asking for help--here at Miami, I’ve found plenty. There’s Dr. Paluch and Dr. Almquist, whose sheer unadulterated enthusiasm for the joys of thermodynamics or the elegance of a chemical engineering process is infectious and inspiring. Then there are Dr. Keller and Dr. Coffin, who not only introduced me to paper science, but fostered my interest and helped me establish a network within the industry. Every faculty member I’ve ever interacted with in this department has shown so much interest in their students, pushing us to succeed and to become the best versions of ourselves that we can be. I’ve learned to rely on these mentors but, even more, to rely on my peers-- that as we go through this journey together we can find support and strength in each other. I’ve found joy in the community we all make up, in the networks we’ve established and the memories we’ve forged. Even the mundane becomes memorable when you’re with the right people. I remember my dear friend Brooke Hitchcock bringing in Wendy’s as we set up camp in a classroom all day on a Sunday, studying for our Process Control exam. As the hours passed and our resolve weakened she challenged me to a roller chair race and we whizzed around the classroom, happy to laugh and act like kids again if only for a brief moment. It takes a special kind of person to make studying for an impossible exam a fond memory, but that’s exactly the kind of person I found in Brooke, and in all of the peers I’ve been lucky enough to call friends here at Miami. I can’t imagine what college would have been like without the wonderful people that have made each day a memory worth cherishing.

I’ve also found fulfillment in encouraging the next generation of tinkerers, of testers, of experimenters. Part of my involvement in the College of Engineering and Computing has been participating in community outreach, which is something widespread that I have seen across so many different CEC orgs. Whether it be the humanitarian efforts of Engineers Without Borders or E-Nable prosthetics, or the local impact on kids that is accomplished through Kode 2 Learn or Girls Who Code, it is so incredible to watch as my fellow engineering and computing peers give back and make meaningful differences in our communities. My personal experience has been through the Society of Women Engineers, hosting Girl Scouts each spring and showing them that STEM is something to be excited about. When we give lab tours or conduct experiments, I see in these girls the same glimmer of curiosity that I had when I was in their shoes-- mystified by the magic, and eager to figure out how it all happens.

When I was a kid, I didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up. Even starting college, there was a lot of uncertainty around the future—and that’s something that my fellow recognition speaker, Zane, has a lot to say about. But some things about us all stay constant--the same qualities that brought us all to engineering and computing, we take with us in the face of change and transition. Tonight, we are recognized as graduates. This doesn’t mean we have all the answers, but it does mean we know how to ask the right questions, and that we don’t shy away from the difficult or the abstract. As we move on to this next chapter in our lives, stepping into the great unknown of gainful employment and ambitions beyond a degree, I know this is only the beginning of our education. At the end of the day we’re using our appetite for answers to solve the world’s problems. Learning goes well beyond these brick walls: it becomes a way of life for the path we’ve chosen. I can’t wait to see where that path takes us!

 

  Zane Shreve

Zane Shreve

Good evening friends, family, faculty, guests, and especially my fellow graduates. I am honored to be here speaking today as we celebrate our accomplishments together. I'd like to extend a special thanks to my family, my parents and siblings, for their continued love and support of my education, and to my fellow members of Cohort 5 and Professor Louise Morman of the Lockheed Martin Leadership Institute for the incredible experiences and learnings we've had over the last three years.

The Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle can be summarized as the inability to measure the position and velocity of an electron simultaneously. This uncertainty was a huge turning point in quantum physics, and although further developments in the field of physics have been made that have shaped the way we understand the world, this topic of uncertainty has always remained. And this topic of uncertainty will always remain, and not just in the realm of quantum physics.

Uncertainty is inevitable. It can be surprising, terrifying, excited, unwanted, or desired, but it is unavoidable in each of our lives. But because of the education that we’ve all now completed through the College of Engineering and Computing, I know with certainty that we are all equipped to conquer the uncertainty of the future. The Miami education is unique; it is multifaceted and multidisciplinary. The Miami Plan, with its focus on a liberal education, has ensured that we are all well-rounded and thoughtful students. Our CEC curriculum equips us with technical knowledge and abilities. Our extracurricular actives showcase our passions, and have helped us develop personal and professional relationships. Our faculty demonstrate excellence in both teaching and research. Our administrators present a genuine care and interest in the successes and triumphs of each of us. As students, and especially as engineering and computing students, we are a curious lot. Our curiosity equips us to keep searching for answers, to seek practical solutions in a creative way, and, as Courtney said, for many of us curiosity is why we began doing what we do. These factors combine to create an unmatched education, one that enables each of us to cope with uncertainty.

As we grow, not just in age but in our experiences and insights, we encounter uncertainty every step of the way. But what may have once frightened us about uncertainty may now enthuse us. While we may have once been uncomfortable not having an answer to a problem, we may now relish in the endless possibilities of the unsolved. As we grow and develop, uncertainty doesn’t go away; our attitudes toward it shift, though, and allow us to better understand and better deal with it. For some of us, uncertainty was probably once equated with failure, because it’s incomplete and indefinite. But as we better understand the reality of uncertainty, we learn ways to think creatively and widely, to use our curiosity to be innovative and inclusive, and to see failure as a lesson learned rather than a roadblock. Treating failure, and similarly uncertainty, as an opportunity rather than as a threat, allows room for growth, learning, innovation, and eventually success. And having completed a degree program at Miami, we have now been exposed to this mindset, and have grown and shifted our thinking from “one problem, one solution” to “many problems, infinite possibilities”.

Uncertainty manifests itself in each of our lives in different ways. My senior design teammates Shane, Haitao, and Yi can attest to that. We faced a good deal of uncertainty throughout the entirety of our capstone project, from uncertainty about our topic in general to uncertainty with necessary hardware, to uncertainty of whether or not we would ever finish the project on time. We looked to our advising professors, Dr. Majumder and Dr. Sahin, for answers, but we were met with encouragement to keep researching and digging into the uncertainty, to use what we’ve learned and the way we’ve learned it to tackle our uncertainty with every problem that came up. And as we were able to do that, we continued to make progress week-by- week, to find creative solutions to the issues that just kept coming up, and eventually we ended the semester pleased with our work and our results.

As our experiences shape our perceptions of uncertainty, the things that we feel uncertain about change as well. My housemate and best friend Carsen Cash was uncertain as a first and second year student in chemical engineering. He wasn’t sure what he wanted to do with his degree, or whether chemical engineering was even the right path for him. He was also uncertain about his athletic future. We don’t just live together, but we’re also teammates on the track and field team here at Miami. After he broke his ankle during a meet our first year, he was uncertain what his college career would look like; a broken ankle certainly limits your ability to be competitive in the triple jump. What Carsen was able to do, though, was use these two experiences, these two uncertainties, together to shape his future. During his sophomore year, he decided to follow the pre-med track and pursue a career in orthopedic medicine, to learn about the body and its joints and muscles, and how he can use this knowledge to help those who are injured just as he was. He decided to follow the bioengineering concentration of the chemical engineering degree and learn engineering skills that would translate to the medical field, as well as an engineering mindset that breeds curiosity and seeks creative and inclusive solutions. He also decided to shift his athletic focus from the triple jump to the javelin, which is no easy task at the NCAA Division I level. He took this uncertainty that he was faced with and didn’t shrink from it. He used his experiences and his thoughtfulness and his natural curiosity and he tackled this uncertainty head on. He put his head down and plowed forward and worked hard and used the tools he’s gained at Miami to face the uncertainty that was in front of him. Now he’s been accepted to Vanderbilt School of Medicine, has been named the Miami University Pre-Med student of the year and has the 6th best javelin mark in the Mid-American Conference. And he’s walking across this stage with us today. He’s still uncertain about his future, this is to be expected, this is the nature of the future, but he has the abilities and experiences to face every big decision and hard truth in the same way, with resolve and ingenuity.

Uncertainty is inevitable. It simply cannot be avoided. It shows up in our relationships with friends and family and loved ones. It shows up in our career plans and our service projects, it shows up in the workplace and the classroom and the armed forces. Uncertainty asks us to find solutions to problems that may not even exist yet. But thanks to our unique educational journey at Miami, we’re all prepared to conquer that uncertainty, to allow our failures to motivate us, and to push forward. And even if we don’t know exactly where we’re going, Heisenberg can teach us that we’ll at least know our velocity on the way there. Thank you.