Rachel Zenker


Rachel Zenker - Industrial Engineering Student

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

As an in-state student I originally overlooked Madison in my college search. Living within a few hours of Madison, I failed to see the University’s value and did not consider applying. After looking through dozens of ranking lists and informational websites, Madison appeared consistently. I began looking deeper into the College of Engineering only to discover that Madison is one of the highest ranked universities nationally and internationally, seeded with world-renowned professors. I knew I wanted to study under the leaders in my chosen field and UW-Madison CoE was a natural choice given the reasonable tuition and the high quality, comprehensive and meaningful education it provides.

What was your transition like during your first year on

The transition between high school and college will look different for everyone. While the workload was not significantly different, I struggled with time management. In high school, I kept a relatively regimented schedule throughout the week; however, in college my schedule was different nearly every day. Learning how to use my free time effectively and efficiently was the most difficult skill I had to develop within my first year.

How did you choose your major?

Quite methodically and analytically, I created a spreadsheet outlining the requirements of the CoE majors. From there, I created a decision matrix that allowed me to weigh the pros and cons of each major based on my personals strengths and interests. Having narrowed down my options, I sought out advice from upperclassmen in each field, consulted my academic advisor and accessed as many resources as possible including CoE advising workshops, CoE symposiums and the CoE website. Ultimately, with the help, support and guidance of my friends, family and the CoE staff/faculty, I was able to confidently declare.

How have you personalized your education?

The realization that my selected major did not have to define my academic interests or overall path was a huge turning point in my undergraduate career. In my second semester of freshman year, I added a certificate in Biology in Engineering to reflect my interest in the biological sciences. Although my major is Industrial Engineering, my certificate in Biology in Engineering has been an excellent supplement to my education and allowed me to pursue research and job opportunities outside of the traditional Industrial Engineering field.

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

The opportunities. The CoE and UW-Madison as a whole have so many opportunities available to students. From writing workshops to symposiums to free concerts, UW-Madison constantly provides outlets to students to develop personally, academically and professionally. Some of my most valued experiences on campus stem from stepping out of my comfort zone, taking a (calculated and academically sound) risk, or simply being willing to participate in the endless activities on campus.

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

There are two main outcomes from internships/co-ops. The first is discovering that you love the field or position and would like to pursue a similar job after graduation. The second is discovering that your internship/co-op is not the area you want to pursue full time. Personally, I had an internship experience that closely related to the latter. Within a few weeks of my internship I realized the position I was in did not fit my interests or skill set. Although this was a disappointing realization, I learned so much from that experience. I now have targeted questions to ask in future interviews, I know which field(s) I most likely do not want to work in and I have work experience to help in securing future internships/co-ops/full time positions. Sometimes discovering what you do not want to do is just as important as discovering what you do want to do.

What resources would you recommend to engineering students?

I would highly recommend attending CoE advising events (i.e. major exploration workshops, resume building, etc.). Even though you may think you know what you want to do academically or professionally, hearing from other students’ or professionals’ experiences can be incredibly helpful. These events allow you to network with other undergraduate students, CoE faculty and industry professionals. Beyond that, drop-in tutoring is another great resource. I frequented drop-in tutoring during my first few years to get some of my questions answered and finish my homework in the most efficient manner possible.

What has been your favorite Engineering course? Why?

ISyE 348/349 with Professor John Lee. The course focuses on design and has completely reshaped the way I approach problems and generally view the world. I now notice the minute details in everything I see. I learned evaluation techniques and design approaches that are used in practice which has proven helpful in my research and work experience.

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

During my first year, I took Spanish to fulfill my liberal studies requirement. Not only did it allow me to earn retroactive credit but I continued to develop a second language. More and more, employers are seeking culturally experienced and bilingual employees. Having an understanding of another language and culture has benefited me enormously academically and professionally. In fact, during my freshman year I had the opportunity to publish work in Spanish in a local journal. This is experience sets my resume apart and has exposed me to an entirely new academic field.

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

Apply for scholarships at UW-Madison as soon as you complete your application to the University. Some of the scholarship application deadlines pass before your admission decision is released so apply as soon as possible. Scholarships are a great way to finance your education and build up your resume. Don’t be intimidated to apply to scholarships at a big university. UW-Madison and the CoE have hundreds of thousands of dollars set aside for excellent students, just like you. Know your strengths, know how to represent them and allow yourself every opportunity!