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Cover of the Winter 2010 issue
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WINTER 2010

Study. Serve. Excel.

Rockwell Automation support helps diverse students focus on their education

Benedetta Cannestra in the laboratory. Photo by About Face Media.


During a typical day, sophomore chemical and biological engineering student Benedetta Cannestra attends class, leads hands-on engineering activities with elementary students, participates in a few outreach committee meetings, and, if she has a spare hour, plays an intramural soccer game. Her active involvement in campus organizations would not be possible if she had to make time to work — which, she says, would be necessary to attend UW-Madison if it weren’t for her Rockwell Automation scholarship.

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“Instead of working at a part-time job to pay for tuition, I can put that time into more organizations and try new things in order to discover what I like and what I want to do,” says Cannestra. “There are so many opportunities at UW-Madison and the scholarship gives me the time to pursue them.”

The Rockwell Automation scholarship is a full-tuition scholarship awarded to a student who is a gender or ethnic minority and a Wisconsin resident admitted to the College of Engineering. The candidates are selected from five partner Milwaukee public schools: Bradley Tech, South Division, Washington, Riverside, or Rufus King. Ideal candidates have a strong academic background with an interest in engineering and an active presence in their community.

This partnership began in 2006 in an effort to increase diversity in the global workplace as part of Rockwell Automation’s corporate scholars diversity program. Through this initiative, Rockwell Automation strives to provide a high-quality engineering education, remove financial barriers to college for talented and qualified students, and to sustain those students through graduation. Since the program began, 11 students have received scholarships.

Libby Lee, assistant director of undergraduate and retention programs in the college Diversity Affairs Office and academic advisor for the scholarship recipients, says increasing diversity in the college is very important. “These students are diverse, determined and bring a unique story that they carry with them in their studies and to the other people they meet,” she says.

Cannestra, a Rufus King High School alumna, serves as vice regional student representative for the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE), as well as an outreach committee member for both the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) and the Wisconsin Union Directorate Alternative Breaks.

Her passion for outreach stems from her experience as a UW-Madison Engineering Summer Program participant before her senior year in high school. The six-week program introduced her to engineering opportunities such as the Rockwell Automation scholarship, and the on-campus location facilitated personal relationships with professors and students, making her transition to UW-Madison seamless.

“I have connections with people and organizations on campus that usually take years to find and establish,” she says. “I’m big into outreach because I want to encourage students to get involved and inform them of opportunities just like the ones I had.”

Among the opportunities Cannestra receives as a scholarship recipient is membership in the UW-Madison Leaders in Engineering Excellence and Diversity scholars program, which offers academic, personal and professional support networks. Through this program, she has access to tutors by request, peer mentoring, study groups and advising. “I feel a lot of support in my studies and these resources really allow me focus on my coursework,” says Cannestra. “I’m very grateful to have the support because I know that not every student has resources like the tutor-by-request program.”

Cally Edgren, Rockwell Automation product environmental compliance program manager and UW-Madison campus program manager, says “engineering our future” is no longer just a slogan at Rockwell Automation. Rather, it is a basic component of helping the company and its customers remain competitive.

“Never before has the need for engineers been as much a demand and we recognize that to increase the number of engineers in the workforce, we need to provide opportunities for talented students to pursue science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education and careers,” says Edgren, who earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Industrial and Systems Engineering at UW-Madison.

One of the ways Rockwell Automation is committed to increasing the pipeline of students pursuing STEM careers is through hands-on summer internships. In 2010, Cannestra was a Rockwell Automation intern and worked in the chemistry and materials engineering department at the global headquarters in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where she tested polymers and materials for design.

Benedetta Cannestra. Photo by Jim Beal.

“I had the chance to work with instruments that many students haven’t used or even seen before,” she says. “It made a big difference in my ability to grasp ideas better in class now because of that hands-on experience.”

As a Rockwell Automation intern, Cannestra was enrolled in a developmental series to build leadership skills, which included mock interviews, a mentorship program, and a public speaking class.

“I love and trust the culture at Rockwell,” she says. “Everyone was very engaging and interested in the ideas that I had and really helped me grow professionally through constructive criticism, public speaking skills and networking.”

The network at Rockwell Automation allowed Cannestra to meet many people passing through the headquarters, including UW-Madison deans, researchers, and even the SHPE national president.

“This scholarship allows me to build close relationships with professionals that will help me with references, recommendations, future scholarships, and jobs that I wouldn’t have had so early on in my undergraduate career,” she says.

—Andrea Parins
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