Engineering in motion
Essay prompt: Describe an engineering feat that serves the common good and why it inspires you to study engineering.
No piece of engineering is quite as versatile as the bicycle. For many, the bicycle acts as a low-cost alternative to cars, buses, and other motor vehicles. Others are drawn to bicycles as an emissions-free method of transportation, and still more use bikes for exercise and pleasure. The bicycle inspires me to study engineering because it combines all the elements of my mindset going into the field of engineering, namely: health, sustainability, and a humanitarian focus.
One of the beauties of the bicycle’s design is its simplicity: a pair of wheels, a set of pedals, and a chain. This simplicity enables bicycles to be manufactured cheaply, making them the transportation method of choice for many disadvantaged areas of the world. In the same way, I hope to engineer solutions for the benefit of disadvantaged communities everywhere.
The bicycle is also the perfect example of sustainability. In a world increasingly aware of its own carbon footprint, emissions-free solutions to transportation, like the bicycle, will only gain greater popularity. Similarly, my thinking in the engineering field will be molded by ideas of eco-friendliness.
Finally, the bike is also an excellent piece of technology for those looking to exercise. As an avid biker myself, I am especially passionate about this dimension of its design. In a country facing greater health challenges each year, it is important to have engineers thinking of solutions with a public health mindset, and the bike exemplifies this mindset perfectly.
—Sean Mahoney (Engr ’25)
Paint on a page
I can’t tell you the difference between cross country and track and field, but I can tell you that the relay baton I used in 7th grade played a D natural when I hit it against my hand. I would recognize the note by the spot of yellow that would appear in my mind’s eye as the baton made contact with my palm: pale yellow, like the fading coat of paint on an old school bus. By middle school, I knew that my colorful sensory condition saturated every aspect of my life.
I have synesthesia, an intertwining of the senses. One sense triggers another. When I hear sounds, I see colors. When I see certain colors, I taste or smell different flavors and scents. Letters and numbers have their own hues. Peaches taste like ocean turquoise. My favorite song is the color of a blue raspberry Jolly Rancher illuminated by the sun.
Because I experience the world simultaneously through multiple lenses, I am fascinated by interconnectedness, both tangible and intangible. This influences how I view the world, making me more aware of the complexities of other people and their perspectives. I do not see myself, ideas, or life in black and white.
Given my color-infused world, it is ironic then that black words on white paper inspire my passions for creative writing and literature. Not that I see them that way. Creative writing allows me to spill paint across a white page. Reading and analyzing literature awakens my senses, and my synesthetic brain is fine-tuned to the musicality of writing.
—Jessica Ganley (Col ’25)
A gentle old soul
When you imagine a grandmother, there are several trademarked characteristics that must be included in the mental image. For example: hearing loss, hip problems, a bountiful stash of candies to be given out at random, cat-eyed reading glasses, and if you’re feeling spicy, maybe a cardigan or two. Of course this fictional old woman knits or engages in some other fiber art. If you adjust this mental image, to make the grandmother 6 feet tall, slightly more agile, and give her great skin—oh look! It’s me. I’m convinced that an autopsy will reveal that, in place of a heart, I have a ball of yarn and a few butterscotch candies.
When I was in seventh grade, I joined the fiber arts club hoping to find some peers who also appreciate the value of working for weeks on a scarf that’s too itchy to use. First, I learned to crochet. My grandmothers introduced me to knitting as well. My school desk is actually a sewing table, with the sewing machine hidden behind a false drawer, under a removable panel. It’s very James Bond—if James Bond were an elderly woman and the fate of the free world rested upon a haphazardly made poncho.
People have told me I have an “old soul” all my life, and it isn’t a quality without flaws. I’m a bit of a pushover. When I was little, and coerced into playing soccer, my official position on the team was flower picker. I was hopelessly passive, even for a volunteer-coached team of fruit-snack fueled four-year-olds.
That being said, I’ve found being sensitive is usually helpful, if not for me, then for others. Social justice depends on the sensitivity of the masses. It requires us to care enough about other people to act in their best interests. This becomes clear in an increasingly chaotic world. I’m grateful that empathy comes easy to me. It drives a passion for helping others.
—Meghan Powers (Col ’25)
A word to aspire to
Essay prompt: What’s your favorite word and why?
I was working a quiet evening shift at Denny’s when I first heard the word assiduous.
I was sulking a bit that day. I had kept missing easy shots at field hockey practice that afternoon and the NHS rejection letter I opened before work only made things worse. As childish as it sounds, it felt like nothing I did mattered.
I was busy brooding when someone came in. I sat him in a booth by the window myself. He had a kind smile so I chatted with him as I took his order.
It was surprisingly pleasant. He told terrible jokes that I could not help but laugh at. When he heard I was a student he asked what I planned to study. I began speaking excitedly.
I spoke of engineering and women who inspired me. I rambled about Farida Bedwei, Edith Clarke, and Mary Jackson. I talked about the things I wanted to do, the person I wanted to be. It was not until I handed him his check that I realized how long I was talking. Before walking out the door, he said with a final smile, “You are a rather assiduous young lady.” I laughed and thanked him. Then I looked up what it meant: To be diligent and persevering.
I frowned a bit. I did not think I was a very assiduous person, but I couldn’t help but want to be. To be the kind of person who worked hard and persisted through failure.
Since that day to be assiduous has become almost a goal of mine and has become my favorite word.
—Dedra Dadzie (Engr ’25)
The house in the middle
It’s an odd sight: a secluded neighborhood with only two houses, one brown and one white, on opposite sides of the street. It seems as if they are in their own galaxies, repelled by one another. I’m drawn to the espresso-colored house.
The deep almond-colored walls—a reflection of my brown skin—radiate an inimitable sense of warmth and comfort. The scent of fresh-cooked naan and kebabs fosters an overwhelming sense of hunger. As Lakdi Ki Kathi plays in the background, I sing along without missing even a syllable of my favorite song. My mom calls out my name “Zain!” in a way that it rhymes with “tan.” Dressed in shalwar kameez, I feel proud. I feel understood. I feel like I’m more than enough. Yet an ineffable part of me feels missing.
I exit with a strong desire to explore and expand at the white house. As I amble toward it, the feeling of warmth slowly evaporates from my body.
The bright, bleached walls blind me; the adjustment from a warm coffee, to a foreign, beaming white immediately unsettles me. The scent of freshly sharpened pencils and pungent Expo markers permeates the air, with an undertone of pizza and fries. My ears immediately observe the obscure tune in the background; the only decipherable content seems to be “trucks” and “blue jeans.” Someone in the house exclaims “Zain!” so that it rhymes with “plain.” I realize I’m dressed in a collared polo shirt, khaki pants, and black dress shoes; my confidence is stripped away. I feel misunderstood. I feel like I am not enough. And this time, it is much more apparent that something is missing.
As I return to the street, both houses continue to tug at me. I am lost in the middle of two worlds: my innate Pakistani home culture and my primarily white educational environment. I notice a new construction site in the lot between the white and brown houses. A feeling of liberation and certainty fills me. This one, I realize, is my house, and I am building it.
—Zain Ahmed (Col ’25)
Grounded in the chaos
Well-grounded, shiny, and square—a black IKEA table is my command center. The three and a half feet square stands three feet high, and has become central to my identity. Located in the living room, in the midst of my family’s madness, it is situated next to the couches where my energetic mom claps to the Friends theme song every night. When I’m sitting there, I have a clear view into the kitchen where my bustling parents hastily prepare dinner—Mexican is a McLaughlin staple. The chaotic background noise helps me think clearly, and because of my prime location, I am privy to every conversation that takes place on the first and second floors of my house. “Hey, that’s not right,” I yell, when my parents are talking about me. I passionately interject and insert commentary.
From homework to remote learning lessons, I complete each assignment and prepare for the next school day from the confines of this black square. My table is my safe haven, and with each daunting task I undertake, it maintains its steady composure and remains as it was when I left it—steadfast despite the chaos interjected by my fun-loving family. The table supports my determination, relentless drive, and passion for learning.
It is a symbol of my diligence and relentless perseverance. Like me, it is grounded, the table to the hardwood floors, as I am by the morals and examples set by my parents and sisters: respect, honesty, and selflessness. Sturdy and strong, I too can take a beating, and I am a force to be reckoned with, fierce, strong-willed, and hardworking by nature.
—Catherine Ann McLaughlin (Col ’25)
A romance with Romance
Helpless, I stand beneath the swirling black clouds. The mast groans as the north wind howls mercilessly, striking the sail head on. Gaping surges of seawater snatch the surrounding fleet and hurl them onto sandbanks and spikes of rock. Saltwater lashes my skin; the boat plummets this way and that; procella fluctusque ad sidera tollit. And the storm lifts the waves to the stars, I write with a smile, pleased with how effortlessly the translation comes into my head and in awe of Virgil’s lyricism. Even as I close my notebook, a faint whistling still fills my bedroom.
OK, I’ve never personally been stranded in the Mediterranean Sea amid a storm invoked by “the unforgetting anger of savage Juno” (ominous, right?)—I’ve just lived vicariously through Aeneas. I’ve also been ambushed by barbarians with Caesar and watched the eruption of Vesuvius with Pliny the Younger, all from the comfort and safety of my own desk. Instead of tidal waves and tearing winds, I’ve navigated ablatives and accusatives. I’ve methodically matched verbs to objects and nouns to modifiers with only a few telltale letters to go on, and, in doing so, unraveled the most intricate grammar into a retelling of the fall of Troy.
As a self-proclaimed “STEM person” ever since I laid eyes on an astronomy book at age 7, my romance with the forefather of Romance languages was unexpected, to say the least. I’ve always embraced the meticulous and methodical side of myself. It’s the side captivated by chemistry and calculus, but now I also recognize it as the side that idolizes Virgil as a mathematical genius. I mean, seriously—there are 9,896 lines in the Aeneid, and the guy had to analyze every single letter to satisfy the complex dactylic hexameter! But Latin has bridged my quantitative nature to the part of me I often discount: the one pulled to open-ended beauty.
—Avery Niven (Col ’25)
Waking up local schools
Essay prompt: Rita Dove, UVA English professor and former U.S. Poet Laureate, once said in an interview that “…there are times in life when, instead of complaining, you do something about your complaints.” Describe a time when, instead of complaining, you took action for the greater good.
BEEP! BEEP! BEEP! The alarm awakened my grumpy side. The 7:30 a.m. high school start time was destructive. It caused an endless cycle of lethargy and crankiness. For the good of 30,000 high school students, I chose to do something about it.
To challenge the start time, I delved into the research. In Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker, he cites several benefits of later start times, such as improved academic performance, focus, and mental health, as well as a decrease in road accidents and substance abuse for teens. A neighboring school district conducted a study on later start times, which spurred me to do the same. I conducted interviews and surveyed hundreds of students in my school district. I pitched my ideas and discussed the feasibility with associate superintendents and administration.
On Jan. 22, 2020, I presented my case before the School Board. The board members were intrigued by my proposal. A month later, they directed the superintendent to “study possible changes to student start times.” Validation! Progress was being made.
Then the pandemic hit. The county’s focus shifted to distance learning. For the 2020-2021 virtual school year, the county decided to change the high school start time to 8:30 a.m. As a result, I’m getting more quality sleep and feeling energized for a day of learning. More importantly, my peers are benefiting from the later start times both physically and mentally.
Although I do not know if my voice influenced the county’s decision, I’m proud of myself for taking action rather than sleeping in.
—Benjamin Kim (Col ’25)