Mechanical Engineering Senior Proves Sky is the Limit
LSU Mechanical Engineering major Aida Hendrickson gets a smile on her face when talking about graduating in May. It’s not because she won’t have another test to take or no longer have to fight campus traffic, but because of what comes next.
After studying to be an engineer for four years, she will finally be able to put all of her hard work and knowledge to use working for Boeing, one of the world’s largest global aircraft manufacturers. But before the New Orleans native leaves LSU, she wants other female students to know that they can accomplish great feats in engineering.
Hendrickson didn’t grow up wanting to be an engineer, but she knew she wanted to do something involving science.
“My oldest sister was in nursing school,” she said, “but when I heard the stories she would tell, I thought maybe this isn’t what I want to do.”
Hendrickson remained unsure of what field she wanted to enter until her chemistry teacher at Mount Carmel High School asked her to join Science Olympiad, a national competition with challenges based on science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).
“I signed on, and as the years progressed, I started doing more of them,” Hendrickson said. “A lot of the competitions were just tests, but some of them were building-based, so I did those. I made a robotic arm that would pick up things and place them in a container. I also made a magnetically levitating vehicle that would shoot down a track.”
With the realization that she was not only capable of building robots but also enjoyed it, Hendrickson chose mechanical engineering as her major while attending LSU. Though she loved the field, she noticed that there weren’t that many girls in her classes.
“There are definitely a lot less girls in mechanical engineering right now,” she said. “The girls I knew who came to LSU and went into engineering were in civil or chemical. One of the main reasons I think girls aren’t as attracted to engineering is that they don’t see that immediate ‘this is how I’m helping the world.’ With environmental engineering, you can see the benefits of that right away, or with biological (engineering), where people go into medical school. I think for mechanical (engineering) it’s even more difficult to see that.”
The connection between mechanical engineering and helping people became obvious during Hendrickson’s first internship at a nuclear power plant in Arkansas.
“I thought it was so cool,” she said. “People literally kept this plant running, which powers 60 percent of the state. The direct correlation was so obvious to me.”
Society of Women Engineers
Hendrickson credits LSU’s Society for Women Engineers for serving as a source of encouragement and allowing her to meet other female engineering students who may have felt they were stepping out of their comfort zone.
“When I lived in the Engineering Residential College my freshman year, I remember SWE having snacks out in the hallway for us and study nights during midterms,” Hendrickson said. “SWE was very active.”
During her sophomore year, however, Hendrickson noticed a lull in the organization. This inspired her to become more involved in SWE and run for treasurer her junior year.
“I got a lot out of SWE and really want girls to join,” she said.
Now as president of the LSU SWE chapter, Hendrickson wants to pay it forward and make female engineering students feel supported.
“My job as president is to make it more of a community for women so you have a support system, because engineering can be tough,” she said.
One thing she stresses to SWE members is to attend the national conference, where female engineering students can network during the three-day education celebration.
“My biggest talking point for the SWE members is to attend the conference, especially if they want to get into a field other than oil and gas,” Hendrickson said. “Everyone goes. Google goes. Whirlpool goes. They’ll hold interviews at the conference. I actually got the job [at Boeing] by going to the conference. It’s such a good experience.”
The irony in all of it is that now men are attending the conference.
“It’s kind of funny because a lot of guys end up going to the career fair,” Hendrickson said. “More and more men are showing up each year.”
Maybe the ladies are on to something.
Though she will be armed with a degree in mechanical engineering and a minor in aerospace engineering, Hendrickson still gets butterflies in her stomach thinking about her upcoming job with Boeing.
“I am extremely nervous,” she said. “I will be working really closely with the flight test pilots, making mathematical models and simulations for helicopters before their flight tests. One of the main helicopters we work on is the Chinook, which is any military ‘heli’ you’ve ever seen. It’s a workhorse of the military. I really like it. That kind of stuff is cool to me because you take something that is so dependable and make changes to it. It’s a highly technical role, and I know I’m going to be working with a lot of really smart people, which is exciting but also scary.”
Asked how she feels going into her first job as a female engineer, Hendrickson said, “I’m not scared, but I’m very interested to see what happens.”
So, lady engineers, the next time you look up at a helicopter buzzing around in the clouds, know that the sky is the limit.
By Libby Haydel