When Jenny Kaeppel was little, she liked building houses out of Legos.
“There was a piece to create almost anything I wanted to make, and that’s where I first discovered my love for designing buildings,” she said. “In high school, I started taking architecture-based classes and found that I really enjoyed them. When I was looking at college degrees, I began researching a ton on architecture, but I also really enjoyed math. The word ‘civil engineer’ started coming up a lot in my Google searches, and the more I read about it, the more I liked it.
“My high school had mentioned College of DuPage a number of times, and when I visited the College’s website, I found that they offered a number of classes for that degree.”
Although she did not apply for the Pathways to Engineering program with the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, which provides seamless transfer for College of DuPage students, Kaeppel thought the program demonstrated how COD’s engineering classes are on par with those at other top four-year universities.
She did join the Engineering and Technology Club and served as an officer. The club provided her with opportunities to gain experience in teamwork and communication.
“These are skills you need to use in any engineering job down the road, because it’s important to listen to each other’s ideas and come up with the most useful and cost-effective solutions,” she said. “The other club officers and I created the Cardboard Boat Competition, which involved having club members construct boats out of cardboard and duct tape. We then raced our boats round-robin style in the COD swimming pool.”
In 2015, the club’s robotics team competed in UIUC’s Jerry Sanders Competition and won Best Overall Design for its robot. The team then flew to Cape Canaveral as the first team from COD ever to compete in the NASA Robotic Mining Competition. The competition simulated a mission to Mars where a robot must dig up and store lunar soil.
“The event lasted one week and was a true testament to just how hard we were willing to push ourselves to have a competitive robot,” she said. “Although we did not place at the event, it was a great experience and we want to go back next year.”
Before transferring, Kaeppel interned at Genesis Surveying and Engineering, where she assisted on more than 20 projects that included boundary and topographic surveys as well as engineering plans for commercial and residential construction companies.
“It was a fantastic hands-on experience that taught me a great deal about engineering, problem-solving and critical thinking,” she said.
Kaeppel transferred to UIUC and earned a bachelor’s degree in Civil Engineering with a focus on structural engineering. Having interned at Larson Engineering, a civil engineering company in Naperville, she is now a full-time engineer there, splitting her time between the civil and structural departments.
“My structural work consists of a wide range of projects, from staircases to elevator hoists to building renovations. We see it all!” she said. “I’m very much enjoying being an engineering, and I’m constantly learning new things. It’s like I never left the classroom. It’s also interesting to see the real-world application of my education. I can’t wait to continue growing as an engineer.”
Kaeppel believes COD’s Engineering program provides big rewards for students who are willing to work hard for them.
“Just remember to choose your teachers wisely, do your homework, and consider forming study groups for exams. Also, joining clubs at college is a great way to meet people and have fun during the school year,” she said. “I’d like to thank Scott Banjavcic, Bob Clark and the College for their continued support of the Engineering and Technology Club. Without their dedication and guidance, we would not have been able to accomplish half of the feats we did. We owe our success to the incredible people who remained with us while we designed, built and tested each of our robots. Also, thank you to the wonderful teachers in the TEC who allowed us to use their equipment and supervised us.”