Aaron Huxford

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Aaron Huxford, Nuclear Engineering Student

How did you decide to come to UW-Madison for engineering?

Ever since I can remember, I always enjoyed my math and science courses in school. In high school, I took an Introduction to Engineering and Design course and loved it. I really enjoyed using computer-aided design (CAD) to create mechanical parts, assemblies, and technical drawings. From those experiences, I knew I wanted to pursue engineering, and being from Green Bay, WI, it was a logical choice to apply to UW-Madison’s prestigious College of Engineering.

What was your transition like during your first year on
campus?

Since I am from Green Bay, WI, I had been to Madison several times before moving here my first year on campus. However, it was the first time I had been away from home for an extended period. For the first couple of weeks, I felt like every other student I ran into was eager to meet new people. I met so many nice, intelligent, and fun people while I lived in Witte Hall. I thoroughly enjoyed my first year at UW-Madison, and I am still friends and roommates with people I met my first year on campus.

How did you choose your major?

For two summers, I worked at a coal-fired plant in the back of a paper mill near my home in Green Bay, WI. Over those two summers, I came home completely covered in coal dust every day. This made me realize firsthand how dirty coal power really is. This experience at a coal power plant along with my interest in all things physics led me to pursue a degree in nuclear engineering at UW-Madison.

How have you personalized your education?

Thanks to UW-Madison’s Nuclear Engineering Distinguished Scholars Program, I could better pursue my special interests in nuclear engineering areas instead of taking all the recommended courses for a nuclear engineering degree at UW-Madison. For example, instead of enrolling in courses such as Mechanics of Materials and Electrical Circuits, I substituted those classes for Nuclear Materials and Power Plant Technology. Also, this has allowed me to better manage my coursework every semester. If it wasn’t for this program, I would not have been able to take all the classes I wanted to while at UW-Madison.

What has been your favorite or most rewarding part of being a student on
campus?

For the past three years, I have tutored for the College of Engineering’s Undergraduate Learning Center (ULC). This has by far been the most rewarding part of being a student at UW-Madison. Going into freshman year, I never thought I would be a tutor for engineering courses, but the ULC allowed me to start by tutoring introductory engineering courses, such as EMA 201 Statics, and move my way up from there. There is something special about seeing that moment when students are struggling then something just clicks, and they start to understand. Thanks to the ULC, I got to be a part of these special moments every week, and it is one of the reasons I want to go into academia.

Have you had an internship/co-op/job that helped solidify
what you want to do?

Yes, I have been involved in undergraduate research for over a year now in the UW-Madison Environmental Degradation of Nuclear Materials Laboratory. There is so much you can learn from doing research that you can not learn in the classroom setting. My experience with undergraduate research helped push me into going to graduate school. I am interested in becoming a professor of nuclear engineering, and the thought would have never even crossed my mind if I did not participate in undergraduate research.

What resources would you recommend to engineering students?

In my opinion, the Undergraduate Learning Center (ULC) is best resource engineering students have on campus. The ULC is here for you as an engineering student whether you’re struggling in a class, you want to get your homework done quicker, or you just want to meet people in your classes. As a ULC tutor, I highly recommend going to drop-in tutoring as much as you can, and all the tutors are there to help as many students as they can.

What has been your favorite Engineering course? Why?

My favorite engineering course I’ve taken is NE 405 – Nuclear Reactor Theory. This is the first class where I learned a lot about the fundamentals of nuclear reactors. The course was taught by a PhD candidate who was in his last year of graduate school, and he had taken the course previously as an undergrad at UW-Madison. His ability to connect with students only a few years younger than him made the course even more enjoyable. Nuclear power generation is the main reason I pursued a degree in nuclear engineering, so having enjoyed this class reassures me that I am on the right academic path.

What has been your favorite liberal studies course? Why? How did you choose it?

My favorite liberal studies course has to be German 101, which I took my first semester at UW-Madison. I chose it as my first liberal studies course because I always had an interest in the German language and how strong it sounds. The class was fun: we sometimes played board games in German, such as “The Settlers of Catan.” However, not only was it a fun class, but I can still speak a little German and understand German literature just from taking a 101 language course. German 101 also led me to my intermediate liberal studies course, German 276 – Introduction to World Literature, where we read literature from all sorts of locations and time periods.

What final piece of advice would you give to incoming engineering students?

Don’t be afraid to get involved in events outside of the classroom, whether it be a student organization, tutoring service, undergraduate research, intramural sports, or something else you find interesting. Your experience in the classroom is important, but you can may find your true passion when you’re at a conference for your student organization or helping research something never seen before.