By Awua Buahin, Senior, Materials Science and Engineering

Awua is a Ghanaian American senior, majoring in Materials Science and Engineering.

Why did you choose to be an engineer?

The idea of creating or building something tangible from something as little as a thought was something that was very powerful and attractive to me. This was at the heart of engineering, and I wanted to develop the skills that would allow me to translate big ideas and thoughts into reality.

Amidst the chaos of assignments, difficult depth classes, and a flurry of job applications that all failed to materialize into a promising summer plan that was my Junior Spring, I had a troubling awakening: I wasn’t enjoying my major in materials science and engineering. I got into the field because I liked chemistry and I liked the hands-on application and design work that came with engineering. Materials Science and Engineering (or MatSci for short) was a great combination of the two. I also liked the promise of being at the forefront of engineering innovation, something I had gotten a taste for through my research experience into new drug delivery platforms.

With that being said, I had reached a point in my undergraduate career where I was taking the more advanced classes that began to feel less like adventures or explorations, and more like incredibly repetitive chores. I’d wake up, get ready, bike to class, bike back, eat, finish whatever PSET or lab report was due and go to bed only to wake up and do the same thing again. Perhaps I wasn’t consciously putting in effort to better balance my extra-curriculars and engagement with classes (I had after all picked up a lot more responsibility at work, and in various student groups). At the same time though, I didn’t really feel motivated to do so. Ultimately the fact that the concepts that I was learning did not really excite me anymore, and my frustration at not being able to secure a summer internship in MatSci fields that were of interested in made the future feel incredibly bleak.

So, I took time to reflect.

I created a list of things that things that had to be involved in whatever endeavors I took on. I noticed a lot of them involved being creative and doing design work. I believe I’ve always been drawn to creative pursuits and for some reason, that has been something that I’ve suppressed or not taken seriously until I came to Stanford, but I felt like I owed it to myself to explore. And sure, there was some design work involved in my MatSci research, but it didn’t feel tangible and that was incredibly frustrating to me.

After speaking with friends and sniffing around at what else had been of interest to me pre-Stanford, my interests in Mechanical Engineering, UX/graphic design, and Architecture were piqued. I took the summer off to explore options available to me at Stanford within these fields, as well as some other things that I had tangentially been curious about but never invested any serious thought into. For example, I got a robotics kit, I bought some art supplies, I learnt a little bit of python. It wasn’t always easy to get into these things without structured classes, but I felt empowered in that I was slowly getting back to things that I could see a good future in.

At the beginning of my senior year, I settled on pursuing a minor in mechanical engineering. It hasn’t been easy, I’ve been in several stressful situations brought on by having to balance the added, unexpected coursework and building a program that wouldn’t overlap with my major. There were several times when it seemed like it wouldn’t be possible but at the end of the day though I made it. I’m tired, burnt out and just about ready to leave but it was worth it. I was excited to work through course material again and I feel like I’ve opened a lot of career paths that are a better fit for me.

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