Junior Michael Johnson is the archetype of a busy engineering student, parsing his time among academic, leadership and social commitments while pursuing dual degrees in Civil Engineering and Environmental Engineering.
“My interest in becoming an engineer emerged during my middle school years in Bridgeport (CT), when one of my teachers encouraged me to enter the state-wide Science Fair. I was good at math and science, and she thought my skills would translate well into an engineering career,” he says.
For Michael, a top student throughout high school, UConn’s strong reputation in engineering, proximity to family, and award of a generous merit-based Leadership Scholarship (he is also a 2012 Ewing Scholars Scholarship recipient) were decisive factors behind his choice to enroll in UConn Engineering.
The summer before his freshman year, Michael participated in the BRIDGE Program, a rigorous academic “boot camp” for underrepresented populations in engineering. The program enabled him to start his freshman year fully prepared academically, and to build a cadre of close friendships while learning to navigate college life before embarking on his first year. Like hundreds of students before him, Michael found the BRIDGE Program formative, providing him a firm foundation, academically and socially, upon which to build an impressive scholastic portfolio.
“BRIDGE is what has kept me in engineering. Because it was so important to me, I became involved as a mentor/tutor the summer following my freshman year and continued part-time last year as well.” Besides formally and informally tutoring BRIDGE participants in core mathematics, physics and chemistry courses, along with his fellow tutors, Michael has contributed to yearbook activities and organized social and team-building activities.
During his nearly three years at UConn, as Michael has become more immersed in engineering courses, he has tweaked his academic thrust several times to slake his intellectual thirsts. “When I started at UConn, I was initially interested in Biomedical Engineering because I really wanted to work with people. I enjoyed that program, but as I learned more about other engineering disciplines and came to understand that all of them have a large teamwork component, I decided to take coursework across the engineering disciplines, including mechanical, civil and environmental. I like the idea of designing and creating things we use in everyday life,” he explains. By taking overflowing course loads each semester, Michael is on target to graduate in May 2014 despite his dual degree program.
Michael’s dedication to giving back is manifested in his jam-packed extracurricular activities, which include his campus job as a Resident Advisor in the Engineering House living/learning community, active involvement in the UConn chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE), membership in Engineering Ambassador and participation in a new organization, UConn Empower. Rock climbing, endurance sports and international travel fill the few remaining, unscheduled hours in his bursting college life.
NSBE, like BRIDGE, has been an important focus of Michael’s time at UConn. He became involved in NSBE as a freshman; last year, he was Secretary of the chapter, and this year he holds dual roles as Vice President and Treasurer. Members contribute their time toward charitable causes as well as professional/academic activities. Michael notes that the NSBE fall regional and national conventions, in particular, are major forums for soon-to-be engineers to engage and network via career fairs, professional and academic workshops, and leadership skills-building events.
As an Engineering Ambassador, Michael and fellow members visit middle and high school classrooms around Connecticut, where they talk about their experiences as UConn engineering students and engage the school children in age appropriate hands-on engineering demonstrations and fun activities designed to excite younger audiences. The Engineering Ambassadors program is sponsored by United Technologies Corp., which is committed to enhancing the diversity of the engineering community. In fact, Michael will be interning with one of UTC’s units, Pratt & Whitney, over the summer, where he will be embedded in the Hot Section Structures unit.
Michael’s internship during summer 2012 was closely associated with his interest in civil engineering structures: as an intern with New England Hydropower Company, he traveled around the region assessing the flow rates and volumes of various dammed rivers in search of potential hydropower sites.
With an enviable academic record, impressive social skills, seemingly boundless energy and a sunny perspective on life’s opportunities, Michael has set his sights on an entrepreneurial career after first gaining experience in industry.
“I am very interested in energy and sustainability,” he notes. “When I start on my career I know it is unlikely that I will go straight into what I want to do for the rest of my life. I understand that interests may change with time and I may run into something I thought I’d never enjoy — which I think is exciting. I hope to one day to use my engineering to deliver sustainable energy to communities, work with sustainable urban design, or perhaps maybe even work in forensics. I find a great number of topics within engineering interesting, so I really am excited to see where I end up or what path I decide to follow based on future experiences.”