With an early interest in science and math, Josie Suter was further inspired by the stories her father shared with her about his work as a mechanical engineer.
Those stories led her to develop a curiosity about how things worked.
“My dad was a huge influence on my choice of major,” she said. “A significant portion of my childhood was spent listening to his bedtime stories. He would tell me about the things that interested him as a kid, major projects his company was involved in, and how he was fixing different parts of our house.
“When I found my passion in math and science during high school, engineering seemed to be the most obvious route to take. I never had any engineering classes so I was still unsure, but I took a leap of faith and invested myself in the study.”
College of DuPage’s Engineering Pathways program, which guarantees admission to qualifying students interested in transferring to the Grainger College of Engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC), provided the opportunity she was hoping to find.
“COD offered me the ability to explore options at a much lower cost than if I had started at a four-year institution,” she said. “As it turned out, engineering was a great choice and I love the path I’ve chosen.”
Suter’s cheerful personality and enthusiasm mask her laser-focused dedication and a robust work ethic. She excelled as a student at COD by maintaining a near-perfect grade-point average and enjoying the opportunities provided for leadership and experience beyond the classroom. She served as president of the Engineering and Technology Club, assisted with the Engineering Olympics for high school students, and participated in projects such as the Midwest robotics Design Competition held at UIUC and the Robotic Mining Competition at NASA.
Through the ETC, she organized monthly speakers and developed an eight-week robotics pilot course under the Physics program so members could gain additional experience in the machine shop while building robots for the spring competition. Under her leadership, the ETC instituted a new initiative that presented a series of hands-on events to homeschooled students. She served as treasurer for COD’s chapter of the Society of Women Engineers and taught basic engineering principles to students ranging from kindergarten to ninth grade through COD’s Continuing Education Department.
She also learned about leadership through COD’s then president, Dr. Ann Rondeau.
“Dr. Rondeau was such a great role model. She was very generous with her time and is definitely a leader I look up to. She’s down to earth and very competent. While she has the ability to command a room with ease, she was consciously unintimidating.”
Taking advantage of COD’s relationship with regional STEM institutions, Suter completed an internship at Argonne National Laboratory and impressed her employer so much, they invited her to stay through a co-op program.
Earning her Associate in Engineering Science degree, Suter was named one of the College’s outstanding graduate finalists and received the Benjamin P. Hyink Student Leader of the Year Award from the College’s Office of Student Life. She said the combination of academics and her many leadership activities at COD has been crucial to her continued success.
“My experiences taught me how to lead and be a good member of a well-functioning team,” she said. “I learned about working with people, which was especially helpful at UIUC because we had a lot of team projects to complete.
“The rigor of the courses at COD also prepared me to succeed academically once I transferred. That solid foundation made the transition to UIUC easier and less overwhelming. COD’s faculty gave students the equipment and space to explore our interests. I learned about manufacturing through guided experience and, as a result, I’m not afraid to pick up a tool. Working on projects in COD’s machine shop and gaining hands-on experience helped me better understand how things work.”
As a student at UIUC, Suter continued to excel and demonstrate her dedication to making an impact on her community. She and two other COD alumni designed assistive devices for people with disabilities, for which she won the MechSe Student Outreach Award.
Having graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Engineering from UIUC, Suter now works at EarthSense, an agricultural robotics startup where she initially interned as a student. The role fits her sense of responsibility for the future by enabling her to design robots that are helping to advance food sustainability.
“I am thrilled to take on this role,” she said. “I’ve always been passionate about sustainability. We are not treating the earth well enough to support life here forever, and sustainability in agriculture needs further exploration and development. This job enables me to work on projects that could help our food supply and make a positive impact on the world.”
Suter credits COD and her experiences in the ETC with inspiring her resulting career path in robotics.
“I never had an interest in robotics before COD and I probably wouldn’t have done robotics if I had started as a freshman somewhere else,” she said. “Being part of the ETC and working on the robotics competition projects really broadened my horizons and opened doors to so many opportunities. Being involved in manufacturing the robots got me into product design, which has become a passion of mine. I wouldn’t have explored those opportunities anywhere else.”