When she was very young, Juda, Wisconsin, native Taylor Adkins remembers being impressed when her aunt told her she had earned a PhD in engineering. Adkins was excited to learn that someone in the family worked on a train! But as she got older and finally understood what aeronautical engineering is, Adkins was even more impressed. “That let me know the opportunity in engineering existed, and it was something I could possibly do,” she says.
Throughout high school, that inspiration never wore off, and Adkins’ deep love for math and science convinced the class valedictorian that engineering was indeed the right path for her.
However, it took another inspirational woman to convince Adkins that the University of Wisconsin-Madison was the right fit. Her older sister, Morgan, had earned a degree in industrial engineering from UW-Madison—but Adkins wanted to go to a university where she could forge her own identity.
Nonetheless, her sister convinced Adkins to apply for the Engineering Summer Program hosted by the UW-Madison College of Engineering Diversity Affairs Office. The six-week residential program includes a full slate of pre-engineering courses, faculty discussions, team-building exercises and design challenges.
Adkins loved the program. “There were students from across the country and from Mexico and the Mariana Islands. I fell in love with campus and was hooked on engineering,” she says. “That’s why I applied to UW-Madison.”
She was also inspired by Engineering Summer Program manager Sara Rothe, who introduced Adkins to the field of chemical engineering, which she has selected as her major. Now, Adkins is a sophomore and knows she’s on the right path. Academically, she’s flourishing and particularly relishes difficult classes like calculus II and the chemistry 115/116 honors sequence.
She’s also helping her fellow students, serving as a PRePS facilitator for physics 201 through the college’s Undergraduate Learning Center. She also has worked as a math and literacy tutor for 7th graders in the Madison school district.
While she is more than capable of handling her heavy academic load on her own, Adkins says she’s grateful for the support she’s received from the College of Engineering and UW-Madison. She is part of the Leaders in Engineering Excellence and Diversity Scholars Program which supports women and students from groups historically underrepresented in the field of engineering. The program has not only aided Adkins financially, but it also helped her adjust to campus life. “I have to pay for college all on my own, so having a LEED scholarship lifts a huge part of that burden,” she says. “But the really, really important part is getting to know other people in my year and older students from the weekly LEED scholar study tables. I even met one of my roommates there.”
Adkins is also part of the Women in Science & Engineering (WISE) program, a learning community where STEM-focused women live in a supportive residential community that includes mentoring, networking and social opportunities. “Seeing other women on campus succeeding in STEM is amazing,” she says. “Just knowing there are women doing well and getting to see them in the context of LEED and WISE is really great.”
While Adkins always thought she would go into academia, and spent summer 2020 conducting research in a chemistry lab, she’s now considering options in industry as well, in areas like plastics or pharmaceuticals. “I’m waiting to see where my classes take me,” she says.
Author: Jason Daley