Why did you choose engineering at CU Boulder?
My mom always taught me to follow my gut. While my friends in high school deliberated and ranked colleges, I was set on CU Boulder for some reason; it was my dream school. I researched and I visited and it all made me love it more. You can have a million reasons why a college is perfect, but if it doesn't feel right, you'll never be at home. CU felt perfect.
As for engineering, I went to a very small (35 kids in my grade) STEM-oriented middle and high school. I had been with the same people for 7 years, doing calculus when we were 14. I loved the challenge and problem-solving. I knew I wanted to do engineering, so I found biochemical engineering, an area that combined problem-solving with my passion for medicine.
What does the #ILookLikeAnEngineer hashtag mean to you?
I've been outnumbered by boys in nearly all my group work, recitations, even my closest friend group. In a field that demands creativity and new ideas, it's shocking that there is a norm at all. Consider how limiting it is to surround yourself with people just like you. Underrepresented groups in engineering are not valued because they are minorities and, by definition, rare. We are valued because our diverse backgrounds endow us with powerfully unique perspectives that we can apply in design and innovation.
What are three things that make you unique?
- I was raised between cultures. I am the first of my family to be born in the United States; everyone else is from Romania. I would go to school and immerse myself in heavily westernized culture, then return home to the comforts of my eastern European home.
- When my dad was about my age, he illegally escaped from communist Romania. He was caught and imprisoned in Yugoslavia for a couple years before he finally reached America. Then he helped my mom make it here too. They could hardly speak English and shared a cramped apartment in Staten Island, New York. Now they both have their own businesses and were able to afford to send me to college out of state. That's hard work. I was raised with this immigrant mentality and I let it guide my ambition in everything I do.
- I've always been good with languages. My first language was Romanian. I fumbled with English for many years; now you can hardly tell English isn't my mother tongue. In high school, I studied Mandarin Chinese for 6 years, and after 3 years at university, I've picked up fluency in German. Languages give me perspective and empathy for other cultures and people; it helps me celebrate diversity everywhere I go.
What are your career goals?
Lately, I've been obsessed with biomimicry within biotech.
Jellyfish and sharks have been around for hundreds of millions of years; they must be doing something right! I would love to explore research that takes inspiration from animals and plants to solve challenges in the medical field.
Do you have a favorite quote or mantra?
A lion does not concern herself with the barking of dogs.
What are your hobbies?
I love learning. So I could list my hobbies (drawing, painting, writing, singing, playing guitar, running, and on and on), or I could say my hobby is learning new hobbies.
It's like a videogame, where you discover your avatar has a trait or trick you didn't know about. I learn about myself most when I give myself new challenges.
What do you enjoy most about engineering?
Engineering is art.
I love art. I see it everywhere and I draw inspiration from it, even the most mundane things. Engineering is about more than just math and science. It's about finding patterns and being clever and creative and observant. You have to appreciate the balance in things and understand the behavior of some of the smallest fragments of reality. With all these different aspects of engineering, I'm able to combine my profoundly broad range of interests to solve all different kinds of problems.
Do you have any advice for a freshman in engineering?
In Finnish, there's a word, sisu, that basically means toughness. It's about doing what you have to do without complaining, without expecting a reward, without expecting people to notice. Have grit and be able to get back up, be able to power through that late night at the library, bounce back from a bad test. It takes time and so much energy and will to succeed in this field, but it's all so worth it.
Dana Stamo, Class of 2018, BASIS Charter School Graduate (AZ), Chemical and Biological Engineering