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Dublin High School Alum Crystal Fisher Explores Engineering at Purdue University

November 17, 2014

The two most popular series of articles we’ve published in our five year history are the Life in College Series and Women in STEM Series. This next story combines both into one, featuring Dublin High School Class of 2012 alumni Crystal Fisher who is currently attending Purdue University in pursuit of a degree in chemical engineering. What inspired you to leave California for college and apply to Purdue?

Crystal Fisher (right) - Purdue Boilermaker

Crystal Fisher (right) on the Purdue Boilermaker

Crystal Fisher: “Both of my parents went to Purdue. My dad is an aerospace engineer and my mom is a nurse. I visited Purdue in the middle of the winter and thought ‘absolutely not, I don’t want to go here, it’s freezing!’. Indiana in the winter is nothing like California.

“My parents encouraged me to apply because Purdue is a great engineering school; I was accepted and was awarded a scholarship which helped with the out-of-state tuition. I actually applied to 22 schools, because at the time I wasn’t sure where I wanted to go, but I knew I wanted to do something involved with chemistry, maybe pre-med or chemical engineering.

“After being accepted I visited Purdue over Spring Break and I fell in love with the campus. Purdue is very different from California schools because of the brick buildings and ivy; it has a different feel. The people in Indiana are really nice: I’ve never felt unsafe, and feel like I can go up to anyone and ask them a question. My grandmother lives about 90 minutes from Purdue so I have family nearby which helps with the homesickness.” Why did you end up choosing chemical engineering?

Purdue University Engineering Student Crystal Fisher and FriendsFisher: “I had former Dublin High School science teacher Kim Baumann as my AP Chemistry teacher, and she made me fall in love with chemistry. She is an awesome teacher who inspired me to pursue chemistry. I’ve always been more math and science oriented, and originally thought chemistry would lead me to pre-med or psychiatry. But as the years have passed, and with work experience in chemical engineering, I’m going to stay on the engineering path.

“My dad was always pushing engineering and advised that if I was accepted into an engineering program I could always switch to a different major if it wasn’t working out. He felt I should go for the toughest thing out there because you can always switch if you don’t like it. Even though engineering is tough I’m really happy with my decision.

“Purdue has a terrific engineering school which includes co-op work experiences. Purdue hosts an industrial roundtable, which is a job fair for engineering and technology majors that attracts over 200 companies to recruit students. It’s amazing to have an opportunity to talk to so many companies, and share my resume, in one place. During the roundtable you give companies an elevator pitch about yourself and if that goes well you’ll have a chance to interview or apply online. That job fair led to my first internship at Toyota.” What are some of the misperceptions about engineering now that you’ve had experience both in college and in the workplace?

Fisher: “I don’t think people realize how many options you have with an engineering degree. With an engineering major you can do just about anything. A great example of this is my dad who has an aerospace degree but is writing software for a startup. I knew that a chemical engineering degree could help me regardless of what I ended up doing after college.

“A lot of people think chemical engineering is just about the oil & gas industry, but there are so many other fields that benefit from an engineering background. I really want to go into hair and make-up products, which is a path you don’t immediately think of when you hear chemical engineering. After college you can also build on engineering with a business degree, law school or even pre-med.

“While engineering is definitely hard, it is manageable.” How does engineering school compare to your high school experience?

Dublin High Class of '12 Graduation

Dublin High Class of ’12 Graduation

Fisher: “I think high school sugar coats the experience too much. I came out of my first college math exam, Calculus 2, in tears because I felt like I hadn’t understood a single question. I was panicking that I’d failed my first exam. The next day I found out that I’d actually achieved a B+ on the exam because of how I’d done compared to the average of the class. That was probably the hardest transition because unlike high school it’s not the absolute number on the exam that matters in college as much as how you compare to your class.

“One thing I like about college is the ability to manage your time. Unlike high school there are breaks between classes, your assignments are all online and most professors give all the assignments upfront so you can work ahead if you are really motivated.

“My study habits have also changed. In high school they cookie cutter what you are supposed to study whereas in engineering you have to study everything, not just what the teacher lectures or what is in the homework. You have to learn everything as a whole.

“I’ve also found you have to work a lot harder to understand the concepts in college, and how important it is to take advantage of your professors’ office hours.” To what extent were AP classes helpful in preparing you for college?

Fisher: “AP classes helped clear some of my credits at Purdue, and AP Chemistry definitely helped, but my advice is to only take AP classes that are relevant to your major. I took AP Micro and AP Gov and while those classes helped my GPA in high school, they are undistributed credits for Purdue engineering. Undistributed credits don’t count towards my degree but do help me register for classes earlier than students with fewer credits.

“If you are considering a math or science-related major I definitely recommend taking the math and science AP classes. I wish I had taken AP Biology which would have made it unnecessary to take the biology elective I’m taking now.” Talk about your internship experience so far.

Fisher: “My first co-op work experience was with Toyota. I really enjoyed my experience down in Princeton, Indiana working at the Toyota SUV plant. I worked in the paint division, mainly with Toyota Highlanders and Sequoias. I completed a Six Sigma components variation study on manual spray gun flow rates, looking at why the flow rates were changing throughout the day. I also completed a Six Sigma design of experiments study for clear coat robot purge solvent. Toyota uses different types of clear coats depending on which paint supplier is being used. I’m returning to Toyota for a second work term in the spring and then Danon after that in Ft. Worth, Texas.” Encouraging more women to pursue STEM fields like engineering is a priority for many companies, colleges and the government. What has been your experience?

Purdue University Engineering Student Crystal Fisher with FriendFisher: “Even though there is still an issue of diversity in engineering, I think Purdue does a really good job of balancing boys and girls in engineering. Chemical engineering is pretty evenly split between girls and boys which isn’t the case with other engineering disciplines like mechanical engineering. I have noticed a difference in the automobile industry which is still a male-dominated work environment, even though cars can be just as much of a girls thing.

“I found the transition to a workplace to be easy because of the scheduled day, and unlike college you don’t have the stress of juggling classes and exams. I went into work each day with a plan of what I needed to get done, and really enjoyed working with industrial robots. My mentor at Toyota was a chemical engineer from Purdue. She assigned all my projects and we got along really well. Each week I also met with my supervisor to go over what I’d accomplished; he even shared life lessons and things to think about which I found really helpful.

“While Toyota is still very male-dominated, and out of the co-op students I started with there were only three girls, I’m not shy so it didn’t bother me but I know for a lot of women it can be very intimidating. Working with the line workers I sometimes felt they saw me as a short little girl who they didn’t need to listen to, so I had to learn how to gain their trust and show how I could help them while they were helping me.

“You have to be careful about assuming you won’t like something. I didn’t know much about cars and nothing about automative paint processes, but it turned out to be really interesting. Working at Toyota has made me really excited to graduate and apply what I’ve learned in the real world.” How did extracurricular activities during high school help prepare you for college?

Fisher: “I was on the varsity swim team all four years of high school which taught me discipline. I was also involved in RIOT (Radical Involvement in Teens). The RIOT program ended up helping me at Toyota because I learned listening skills and different ways to handle difficult situations. I was also the senior class secretary and helped plan Prom, an experience which helped me organize a diversity event while at Toyota.” Looking back, what advice do you have for high school juniors and seniors to make the college preparation experience they are going through now a little less stressful?

Fisher: “Don’t apply to 22 schools! While a lot of my friends stayed in California, I recommend keeping an open mind and looking out-of-state because there are so many great opportunities across the country. Don’t stress too much about the AP exams because if you get the college credit, that’s great, but if you don’t it’s not the end of the world.

“Don’t shy away from engineering. Engineering is tough but manageable. I’m a little jealous of the Engineering Academy that is available now in Dublin High and I recommend students give engineering a try while in high school. There are so many possibilities with engineering. I think a lot of people don’t understand what engineers do and that’s a gap we need to bridge.

“Finally, be involved and have fun!”

At the Dublin High School 2012 Senior Awards Night Crystal Fisher was was awarded a scholarship by Purdue University, the Biletnikoff Foundation Scholarship, was named a California Scholarship Federation Life Member, earned a President’s Gold Award for Education Excellence and earned Dublin High School’s Advanced Scholar Diploma.

Other articles in the Women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) Series: