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. Turns out, it’s a great path and I’m loving it.”
As a student at College of DuPage, Suter found many opportunities for engagement and leadership. These include her role as president of the College’s Engineering & Technology Club (ETC), overseeing the expansion of the club through projects such as the Midwest Robotics Design Competition held at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, the Robotic Mining Competition at NASA and the Rube Goldberg competition at Purdue University.
“Not only was I able to become the president of a club within a year of being a college student, but I could decide to pursue projects of my choice with a ton of faculty and student support,” she said. “For example, I wanted to improve the COD’s homeschool outreach. My team and I decided to host homeschool STEM events at the College and began planning the events from scratch.”
Suter added that while the team’s advisors steered them in the right direction every week, they took a hands-off approach that allowed them to grow.
“Our advisors demonstrated that they believed in us, trusted us and allowed us to learn through our experience,” she said. “I had significantly improved my communication and organizational skills through gathering volunteers, contacting hundreds of homeschooling parents, writing lesson plans, managing registration, scheduling and delegating duties. Above all, I had to figure out what had to get done to make our events successful, some of which I needed to find out through trial and error.
“To lead in the world beyond college, this is the type of thing you need to be successful. When I start a project, business or anything new in a few years, no one will be giving me instructions and I will need to get things done on my own accord. Through COD, I’ve gained the skills, experience and self-efficacy that I need to be successful beyond college.”
Suter said some of the College’s most beneficial features come from the wide variety of extracurricular activities available to students. As a student, she organized monthly speakers for the ETC and developed a one-hour, eight-week robotics pilot course under the Physics department so members of the club could get additional experience in the machine shop while building robots for the spring competitions. She also served as treasurer for the Society of Women Engineers COD chapter, which initially was started by Erna Gevondyan, former COD student and current Energy Systems Risk Analyst on the SAGES team at Argonne National Laboratory. Gevondyan was integral in creating an internship at Argonne in which Suter participated in 2017, so impressing the lab that she was invited to stay on through a co-op program.
Suter was a member of Phi Theta Kappa and maintained a near perfect grade point average throughout her time at COD. She received the Benjamin P. Hyink Student of the Year Award from COD’s Office of Student Life and was named one of the College’s outstanding graduate finalists in 2018.
Having earned an Associate in Engineering Science degree, Suter is now pursuing her bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering at UIUC, where she won the MechSe Student Outreach Award; interned at Caterpillar, where she continues to work part-time; and started a new club to design assistive devices for people with disabilities.
Suter said College of DuPage enabled her to explore opportunities without breaking the bank.
“When I chose to pursue engineering, I wasn’t 100 percent sure that I wanted to follow that path,” she said. “COD offers the Engineering Pathways program which is a 2+2 program that leads to UIUC. This meant I could graduate with an outstanding engineering degree or, if I changed my mind, I could guiltlessly change my major or transfer to a different school. I had freedom to do whatever I wanted without losing $60,000 to $100,000 or sacrificing the quality of my education.”
Her advice to students entering the challenging STEM field is not to strive for perfection, but to take risks and push yourself until you achieve failure.
“You never know your full potential until you hit it and you don’t know that you’ve hit it until you reach failure,” she said. “Don’t be the person who is limiting your own growth. Find out what challenges you and do it. You are the only person in control of how you act, feel and grow. It’s up to you to go out and do what you want.”