Published: Feb. 2, 2018


Why did you choose engineering at CU Boulder?

The GoldShirt program and the BOLD Center. Coming from a small high school, I didn't have the opportunity to take rigorous math and science courses to the extent that some of my current peers have. Instead, I would spend a few of my lunch periods every week with my advisor, during which she'd take the time to personally teach me fundamental Calculus concepts. We'd also have the occasional discussion about astrophysics and Einstein's Theory of Relativity back then—but the highest level of math I was able to formally take before graduating was College Algebra. When I realized how much I loved learning about science and math, I applied to CU Engineering. I wasn't accepted initially, but a few weeks later, Professor Ennis, who directs the Engineering GoldShirt program, contacted me and invited me to apply to it. During the interview process, there was a math assessment and I ended up with a 2 out of 10. In that moment, the only thing I could think about was whether or not I was "fit" to be an Engineering major. To my surprise, I was then told that I'd be accepted if I was willing to participate in a specialized curriculum during my first year. I took the opportunity and ended up in a program that provided me with academic support, a community of friends, and mentors in the BOLD Center who I could find guidance in. Since then, I've gained much more confidence in my own capabilities. 

What does the #ILookLikeAnEngineer hashtag mean to you?

To me, it's a commentary on the idea that a book shouldn't be judged by its cover. It's a powerful way to reinforce the fact that anyone—regardless of their socioeconomic background, culture, or appearance—can pursue engineering and be successful.

What are your career goals?

Recently, I pulled an all-nighter to finish a simulation of a vinyl chloride chemical plant in Aspen—not because I was required to—but because I was really excited to use everything I've learned to solve the problem we were given. I want to find a career in engineering where I can be that excited about a project while also being able to contribute to the research and innovation that's happening in medicine and biotechnology.

Do you have a favorite quote or mantra?

"Speak the truth; yield not to anger; when asked, give even if you only have a little."

What are your hobbies?

I really enjoy photography and art in general!

What do you enjoy most about engineering?

I definitely enjoy the open-ended problems that we recieve sometimes. I used to hate the idea of having underspecified problem statements, but now that I'm nearing the end of the curriculum, I think it's really fun to figure things out using everything that I've learned. Being able to use that knowledge to innovate or optimize existing engineering designs is also a huge part of why I don't regret choosing Engineering. 

Do you have any advice for freshmen majoring in engineering?

Don't give up and don't be afraid to ask for help. There might be times where you wonder whether or not you're, "made to be an engineer," but you're not alone in thinking that. A lot of us find ourselves in that same boat and end up realizing that we really are made to be engineers. What matters isn't always having perfect grades, but rather being able to learn from your mistakes and developing the grit required to keep moving forward. Growth isn't linear. Life happens and things can get in the way of your goals, but there's a community here that's ready to support you and your dreams. 

Phillip Vo, Class of 2020, Mapleton Early College High School Graduate, Chemical and Biological Engineering