Published: Nov. 30, 2022 By

Benjamin Chilton dress in his firefighter clothingIt wasn’t enough for Benjamin Chilton to study chemical engineering at CU Boulder. While at the university he became a firefighter, a course assistant and student ambassador, as well as studied subjects far outside the breadth of engineering.

And because he immersed himself in a wide breadth of academics, elevating his own and other’s learning experiences, Chilton, a chemical engineering senior set to graduate in December, is the recipient of the College of Engineering and Applied Science Academic Engagement Award.

“You can learn a lot more from an engineering degree than just math,” says Chilton, who will  begin working with United Launch Alliance as an ordnance engineer in December. 

Throughout his time at CU Boulder, Chilton sought to widen his academic experience. He added a computer science minor his sophomore year “to further broaden his problem-solving skills.” He chose non-engineering electives—courses such as Music and Space, Creative Writing and Music in the Rock Era—to not only widen his area of study but to also “broaden his social horizons,” taking classes alongside students majoring in areas outside of engineering. This semester, he’s also taking American Sign Language, Bioethics, and Security and Ethical Hacking.

During the pandemic, Chilton enrolled in evening courses at the Community College of Aurora
and earned a certificate as an emergency medical technician. After two years of additional enrollment concurrent with his engineering courses, he obtained a Firefighter I certification; he now works part time as a firefighter/EMT with a fire department in north Boulder County. 

“Many of my first responder courses focused on teamwork, while American Sign Language and creative writing both teach personal expression and understanding others, all of which are incredibly valuable skills to possess as an engineer,” he says.

Chilton’s first leadership position at CU Boulder was as a course assistant for CHEN 1310: Introduction to Computing, where he taught several lab sections for three years. This fall, Chilton also became a course assistant for the chemical engineering senior design course.

As a sophomore, Chilton served as a student ambassador for the chemical engineering student committee and met with other students and faculty, including the chair and assistant chair of chemical engineering. As an ambassador, he provided feedback to the college and mentored students.

“This opportunity helped me grow closer to the professors in chemical engineering and
allowed me to help better the college, as the feedback given in the committee meetings was often directly applied to courses to better the student experience,” he says.

Wendy Young, a teaching professor and associate chair of the department, said Chilton has been an "outstanding" course assistant (CA) for years in the chemical engineering department.

"Students have told me that Ben is extremely approachable, positive and knowledgeable," she said. "Because Ben is studying both chemical engineering and computer science he has been immensely helpful in teaching computer concepts to the CHEN students. He brings a perspective that they do not always get from other CHEN CAs. Moreover, Ben is a firefighter and an EMT; I imagine that his training in both of these fields has helped foster the calm and patient manner he demonstrates when helping students."

Chilton says he was inspired by author C.S. Lewis, who said, “You can’t go back and change the beginning, but you can start where you are and change the ending.” College, he said, presented him with a blank canvas to start over, but as time went on he realized that a canvas doesn’t need to be blank to paint on it.

“While it may take a lot of hard work, the joy does not come from any picture you may paint, but rather the act of painting,” Chilton says. “As I move onto the next chapter of my life, I hope to keep this in mind as well as all the lessons I learned from this university and to continue learning and growing.”

He has already begun searching for continuing education courses to take after he graduates.

"So that I may continue to better myself, sharpen my skills and expand my knowledge,” Chilton says.