Olivia Barron remembers watching snippets of the Paralympic games and thought it was amazing how people could run and compete with the help of prosthetic legs.
“It occurred to me that someone actually created the prosthetics to help others,” she said. “They started off with just an idea and then figured out all the technical details to create something to make a difference in people’s lives. That’s when I realized that I wanted to do the same thing, to find a way to turn my ideas into tools that can be beneficial in people’s everyday lives.”
Barron selected College of DuPage because it allowed her to complete her general education requirements and determine if engineering was the right path for her, knowing it would be easier to change majors at COD than at a larger university.
Thankfully, she discovered a love of engineering and was part of the Pathways to Engineering program, which provides seamless transfer between COD and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
“I came to the open house the fall of my senior year in high school and learned about the Pathways program. Considering that UIUC was the school I hoped to attend, I was excited to learn that COD keeps close ties with UIUC’s Engineering program,” she said. “The Pathways program clearly outlined all the classes I needed to take and informed me about what exactly I needed to do for a smooth transfer.”
Her professors also introduced Barron to internship opportunities. In 2016, after her first year at COD, she landed an internship at IIT researching computational biophysics.
“I never thought I would get an internship as soon as after my first year of college, but COD showed me otherwise,” she said. “During the internship, I learned how to use Visual Molecular Dynamics software, which is a modeling program for visualizing different biological structures like protein molecules and lipid bilayers. I also learned how to use NAMD and AMBER software to input data and run simulations of protein molecules and analyze the results.”
In 2017, she obtained an internship at Fermilab, working with physicists in the neutrino division creating light guides.
“I learned a lot about particle physics,” she said. “Particle physics is applicable in engineering medical devices like PET scans for checking for diseases. Eventually, I want to use my engineering knowledge to build medical equipment.”
Barron transferred to UIUC to study mechanical engineering. While there, she was theTeam Tech Director of Society of Women Engineers (SWE) and led a group of women on a year-long, multi-disciplinary engineering project developing adaptive technologies for John Deere. She also secured two important internships—as a manufacturing engineer intern for Emerson at Greenlee, a professional tools company, where she worked on projects that helped eliminate waste and boost production efficiency, and at Honeywell UOP working with the Pressure Swing Absorption team developing technologies for hydrogen purification.
After earning her bachelor’s degree, Barron had an opportunity to travel to Iceland with The Green Program to learn how that country is a leader in renewable energy innovation. Her experience included taking a class at Reykjavik University’s Iceland School of Energy and exploring the natural beauty of the landscape.
She now works as a process engineer at Northrop Grumman as part of a team to design processes for manufacturing microelectronics for air defense technology.
While Barron chose College of DuPage as an affordable way to complete her general education requirements, she is more than happy with her experience.
“What stood out the most at COD was that I had a lot of really supportive professors who work to see their students succeed,” she said. “COD has programs that can be challenging for all levels and really encourages anyone to learn. I would advise students to look into COD’s various transfer programs. I would also encourage students to talk to their professors about what they plan to major in because many professors have different connections and can refer you to companies for jobs or internship opportunities.”