University of Massachusetts Amherst

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Be Passionate About Anything You Want to Do

Electrical engineering junior Maxine Attobrah of Yonkers, New York speaks from good experience when she addresses high school students about finding a career path in college. “Be passionate about anything you want to do!” she advises. “Whatever you want to be, just make sure you love what you’ll be doing.” One thing Attobrah is passionate about is encouraging minority students like herself, as well as every young person everywhere, to follow their star. This lesson was impressed upon her by caring teachers, mentors, family, and friends while she was growing up in Yonkers, and she plans to give the same kind of guidance to young people once she becomes a professional engineer.

She has already begun this guidance process by training and serving as a Center of Multicultural Advancement peer mentor for a minority freshmen pre-dental student to give academic and social support, provide orientation to the campus and academic life, and act as “a good friend and role model.”

Part of Attobrah’s mentoring advice will deal with how to find your passion in a career choice. “That’s the hard part,” she says. “In my case, I spent a lot of time in M5 [the student innovation center in the Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) Department], “making electrical devices with my hands. The time would just fly by, I was having so much fun. That’s how I knew I was where I really wanted to be, doing what I really wanted to do.”

Attobrah also tested out her passion during two summer internships at the Sikorsky Aircraft company in Stratford, Connecticut. During the summer of 2011, she worked with the Materials and Processing team to determine the status of parts that had failed on the assembly line.

“We would take parts from the helicopter that had failed, and we would analyze all the data to see why, what went wrong, what was the cause of the problem, and who was responsible,” she explains.

Last summer, Attobrah worked in the Flight Controls unit on software and hardware to improve the aerial performance and maneuvering of helicopters. Those two internships really helped Attobrah narrow down the direction she wants to follow in her career.

“Though I found the experience very valuable,” she says about the Sikorsky internships, “I have decided that I would like to check out other types of engineering to see if this is really what I r want to do. I would like to test out areas of engineering related to sports biomechanics and creating software that makes the life of athletes easier and their performances better or maybe even industrial design to innovate newer products in the field of engineering.”

One possibility, she says, is getting involved in the kind of software programs that analyze an athlete’s technique, biomechanics, and exercise physics.

Meanwhile, Attobrah continues her undergraduate research of the past several semesters for ECE Professor Neal Anderson on understanding and reducing energy dissipation in computing circuitry. Working on this research, has been one of the best experiences she has had.

“It puts my passion on a higher level, every time I deal with anything that allows me to put the knowledge I have learned in school into practice,” she says.  

All this productive activity as a peer mentor, intern, and researcher was part of Attobrah’s search for professional fulfillment, and it has helped her make up her mind about planning her future.

“One thing I’ve learned for certain from my internships is that I really do want to be an engineer,” she says with firm conviction. “It also taught me how to apply a lot of the skills and knowledge, like physics and circuits, I’ve picked up in the classroom. As for the research, working with a great professor, whom I also look up to as a mentor,  showed me that I really want to go to graduate school. All those are very important lessons.”

So her next step is graduate school, hopefully to concentrate on applying her electrical engineering skills to sports biomechanics or industrial design. From there, she’s headed wherever her passion leads her. (October 2012)