University of Wisconsin Madison College of Engineering

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Winners of the 2011 Connect for Life student essay contest. »

Read what students have to say about the impact of giving on their student experience. »

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About Connect for Life

Connect for Life is dedicated to building greater awareness of the impact of giving on current students and recent graduates. We also seek to create more meaningful ways for engineering alumni to stay involved and engaged with current students.

Did you know:

• The College of Engineering relies on the power of many supporters to maintain excellence.

• All gifts — big or small — make a major difference to the success of current students.

• A College of Engineering degree brings
a lifetime of benefits to our alumni.

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Connect for Life

Student essay contest:
"How has giving affected your college experience?"


First place
Aaron Wells

Engineering Mechanics, x’12

As a former full-time member of the United States Air Force and soon-to-be graduate, I take generosity very seriously. In the summer of 2004, after completing my first year of college at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville, I found myself both financially burdened from working to support my education and personally in need of direction. For me, the path my father and grandfather walked of service to their country seemed an admirable goal. In the spring of 2005, I enlisted in the Air Force and spent the next several years traveling to more than 20 countries and working some of the longest, hardest and most rewarding days of my life. In the back of my mind during this time was always the personal expectation that after my service was complete, I would return to school and seek a career in engineering. This expectation was put to the test when I was faced with a reenlistment decision that would have kept me doing a job I had grown to love, with a team I was closer to than my own family.

Personal expectations won, and on a cold windy night at a small installation in Saudi Arabia, I applied to the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s engineering program. The next few months were a blur of packing, moving and preparing to return to school. During this time I found a new best friend; her name was Crystal. She was a recently graduated practicing engineer on her way to work overseas in Germany, and I was a recent international returnee ready to work at being an engineer. Not a convenient match, but a match nonetheless.

As the months wore on, I struggled with assimilating to a student environment where my sergeant stripes didn’t help me with calculus, and she struggled with assimilating into an environment where knowing calculus isn’t a substitute for fluent German. We became as inseparable as 4,500 miles would allow. Over two years, business trips and breaks afforded us some time to be together, which made the months alone seem more bearable.

A break came last summer when I was offered an international internship in Germany. At first, what seemed to be great news was clouded by the low-wage system the German authorities place on international student employees. As a nontraditional student with very traditional bills, it left a truly unique opportunity out of reach. It came as a devastating blow to both Crystal and me. Then, in an almost unbelievable coincidence, I received an E-mail regarding a scholarship entitled “Carole J. Foster for International Studies in Engineering.” I applied immediately and soon learned I was the chosen recipient. It was a life-altering act in that I was suddenly able to spend my time with my best friend in a place that I’d only touched with video chat. So how has this act of generosity affected me? It enabled me to propose to my best friend. Following our wedding next June, we both have accepted job offers in a city where the distance between us will be measured in inches, not miles.


Second place
Michael Starr

Computer Engineering, Senior


Hi. My name is Mike Starr, and I am a senior here at UW-Madison. In May, 2012, I will end my undergraduate experience at Wisconsin with a bachelor's degree in computer engineering, and successful completion of the mathematics and computer sciences majors. 


On graduation day, I expect to receive a diploma—a humble token meant to symbolize four years of dedication to education. As far as employers are concerned, a diploma is plenty; it represents knowledge of a subject area, a willingness to see a task through to completion, and in general, the ability to perform hard work. Needless to say, the granularity of details signified by a diploma is not very informative—just enough information for an employer to make a quick and sound decision. Unfortunately, a lot is left open for interpretation.


While every computer engineering diploma handed out graduation day will look the same, there is no uncertainty in stating that each student's computer engineering experience is very different.


A month into the second semester of my sophomore year, I was diagnosed with testicular cancer. Three days later I was in surgery, and a week passed before I began chemotherapy which lasted until the week after finals. I dropped my course load to nine credits, had to reschedule a few exams throughout the semester, and missed one of every three weeks of school. Aside from these changes, however, school was pretty much the same. Exam week concluded, summer had arrived, and the students (me especially) took a collective sigh of relief.


Recognizing the uniqueness of my situation, I applied for a scholarship from Cancer for College. I'll be honest: My engineering mind has left me with a rather calculated personality; there are not many things that will stir a big emotional response for me. But the June day I received notification from Cancer for College that I had been selected to receive a scholarship—that is an experience I will not soon forget. Sitting alone in a CS lab, I jumped (yes, jumped) in the air, and hit a ceiling tile in. “YES!”

The scholarship Cancer for College awarded me was the perfect conclusion to a very difficult series of months. It was the recognition I needed, and to this day is something that I am very proud to have earned. That scholarship gives me something to point at and say, “Hey, this makes me different.”  


Third place
Jay Flores

Mechanical Engineering, x’12

The financial generosity of Rockwell Automation has made an extraordinarily positive impact on my college experience. Prior to the start of my relationship with Rockwell Automation, my mission was to graduate from the University of Wisconsin-Madison with a degree in mechanical engineering. After I graduated as valedictorian from Rufus King High School in Milwaukee, WI, Rockwell Automation offered me a five-year full-tuition scholarship with internship opportunities in order to assist me in the accomplishment of my mission. What neither I nor Rockwell Automation expected was that the scholarship and internship opportunities would also transform my mission significantly.


My mission transformed into something greater than my own personal success. The Rockwell Automation scholarship removed the financial burden from my journey, which provided me with additional time to pursue leadership and professional-development opportunities. It also provided me with a strong network of mentors that significantly accelerated my development as a leader.


Thanks to this accelerated development, I was nominated the vice national undergraduate representative of the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers’ (SHPE) National Board of Directors during the summer of my sophomore year. I was then elected national undergraduate representative (NUR) the following year and am currently serving my second term in the role. As the NUR, I have been able to inspire and help empower thousands of Hispanics to reach their fullest potential and impact the world through science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).


Thanks to the Rockwell Automation scholarship, I have been able to serve on leadership panels and deliver undergraduate keynotes at SHPE regional and national conferences all over the United States in order to promote SHPE and STEM. At this year’s SHPE national conference, I will be speaking after the mayor of Anaheim at the 2011 SHPE Conference VIP/Media Breakfast. Without the financial support of the Rockwell Automation scholarship, I would not have been able to share what I have gained from the Wisconsin experience with aspiring engineers throughout the entire United States.


The financial generosity of Rockwell Automation has enriched my collegiate experience and has helped me serve as a role model to many others. The company’s unselfish desire to promote STEM and my experiences during my internships led me to accept a full-time position with Rockwell Automation’s Global Sales Training Program. The Rockwell Automation scholarship has truly changed my life and has helped me to make my academic and professional dreams come true! Thank you.


Fourth place
Julia Shaw

Industrial Engineering, x’12


I come from humbled beginnings, a family of four, and Milwaukee Public Schools. Programs, including the UW-Madison PEOPLE Program, introduced me to this campus. Along with being a highly respected, local university, I knew that UW-Madison had one of the best engineering programs in the nation, so I was determined to work exceptionally hard during high school to make this dream a reality. Ultimately, UW-Madison was my top choice and the only college I applied to during my senior year of high school.


There’s an individual who has made a big difference in my college career; his name was Steven Clark, assistant dean for diversity affairs and student leadership programs at UW-Madison’s College of Engineering. During the summer of 2008, I received a call from Clark, who identified me as a strong candidate for a full-tuition scholarship provided by Rockwell Automation, because of my diverse background and raw talent. I gladly accepted the offer; little did I know this call would change my life.


I went from being a number on this campus to being recognized as a Rockwell Automation Scholar. Assistant Dean Clark met with me and other Rockwell Scholars monthly. He continually expressed his confidence in our ability to succeed and become future leaders in engineering. He focused on our personal and professional development and went out of his way to connect us to resources, such as tutoring and internships. Sadly and unexpectedly, Steven Clark passed away in October 2008; I’d only known him for a few months, but that was enough time to make a huge impact in my life.


Since then, I’ve been honored on the Dean’s List four semesters, served as a Rockwell Automation campus ambassador, and have had three diverse and rewarding summer internships at Rockwell in the technical sales, industrialization and component engineering departments. In August 2011, I accepted an early full-time job offer with Rockwell Automation in the Engineering Services Leadership Development Program. Three years ago, I’d have never imagined being where I am today, but I’m so grateful to be here.


I’m extremely thankful for the financial generosity and academic support that I’ve received during my college career at UW-Madison, beginning with Assistant Dean Clark. This generosity has not only relieved my parents and me financially while they support two full-time college students, but has provided me with a solid foundation and the confidence to excel as a leader in engineering.


Fifth place
Christina Wallhausser

Industrial Engineering, x’13


As engineers, we know it's not the length of the vector that counts, but how you apply the force. This is similar to the idea that a small contribution can make a big difference if applied in the right way. Oftentimes, people think that if they can’t contribute a large amount of money or time that it won’t make a difference and end up not giving at all. I have found this to be completely untrue throughout my college career, and in fact it has been the small contributions that have shaped my college experience.


My name is Christina Wallhausser and I am junior in industrial engineering. Ever since my freshman year, I have been impacted by the generosity of alumni through the student organization I am involved in: the Society of Women Engineers (SWE). Because of the generous donations SWE receives from companies and alumni we are able to host a variety of events that support community outreach, mentoring and professional development.


SWE has had a direct impact on me since my junior year in high school. I attended a weeklong summer camp hosted by SWE for high school girls to explore engineering. It was the reason I decided to come to UW-Madison and the reason I decided to study engineering. Because of this, I felt a very strong connection to the camp and to SWE. During my sophomore year of college, I was one of the co-coordinators for the camp, which is where I really began to understand how important donations were to the success of the camp.


During the time I coordinated the camp, we had a record number of girls attend (60), four of which were able to come because of scholarships from generous donations, and three SWE alumni came back to the camp to host activities and speak to the campers. Without these donations of both money and time, we would not have been able to run such a successful camp, which impacted a lot of high school girls. I have already received multiple E-mails from campers saying how much they loved the camp and plan to study engineering in the future because of it.


To the people who donated and helped with the camp, they might have seemed like they were making small contributions—but just like a small vector with a lot of force, these contributions were applied in a way that deeply affected a lot of people and will continue to affect people in the future. I can honestly say that SWE has shaped my college experience and it would not have been possible without the many small and constant donations SWE receives from alumni. Their donations have made a great difference and have influenced me to give back once I am an alumnus as well. Thank you, alumni!