Where are you from?
I was born and raised in Buffalo, New York.
Why did you choose UB?
I initially started off at another SUNY school and transferred into the University at Buffalo during my junior year. I had already determined my area of interest within industrial engineering – human factors and ergonomics – and UB’s opportunities within this area were unmatched at any other school nearby. Plus, UB was close to home.
What do you like most about engineering at UB?
The School of Engineering and Applied Sciences provides an opportunity for anyone seeking it. UB is perfect for anyone who is unsure of what path they want to take AND anyone who knows exactly where they want to go in life. Aside from offering several majors and minors, the amount of extracurriculars, research opportunities, and professional connections SEAS provides makes UB the ideal place to launch your career!
Why did you choose to go into engineering?
I was exposed at an early age to engineering since my father is a fellow industrial engineer. It wasn’t until I took an engineering course in high school that I explored engineering more in depth. I had never particularly excelled in math or science and honestly thought I would end up in a more traditionally artistic or creative field. However, I was assigned a project in that class that directed me to explore a particular engineering discipline and present it to the class. I rummaged through some of my father’s old textbooks that he kept since his college years and picked one titled Industrial Engineering Handbook. This book had a chapter on workplace safety, which piqued my interest.
I began looking into workplace safety and came across information about the study of human factors. One article I read included a picture of Leonardo da Vinci’s drawing “Vitruvian Man.” I had known Da Vinci as an artist but he excelled in a plethora of other fields, including engineering. It was at this moment that I realized that I didn’t need to go to art school to be artistic and creative in my career. I chose industrial engineering, knowing that it requires much more than skills than in math and science alone, and I never looked back.
What is your favorite place on campus?
The law library. It’s super quiet and I can always find a space to work in. You can choose a spot around the stairs, that overlooks the first floor of the library, or choose a desk that’s nestled between the stacks. It’s a great place to hunker down with a cup of coffee and get a lot of reading done!
What are you working on right now?
I am currently working as an intern at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). I work within the Spokane Mining Research Division which is ultimately part of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), the research agency of the CDC. I have been assisting my team in the design stages of a streamlined, electronic lockout-tagout (LOTO) process for surface miners using belt conveyors. LOTO is a safety procedure used to protect workers from hazardous energy (commonly electrical energy) when working or doing maintenance on machinery. My role is to provide a human factors perspective to the design of the new device, as well as assist in the measurement of the degree to which the device improves situational awareness.
What else do you do on campus and in the community?
I’m currently the Outreach Coordinator for UB’s chapter of the Society of Women Engineers (SWE). I became involved in SWE during my freshman year and found a close community of like-minded women to share my thoughts and experiences with. This experience is invaluable for me as a woman in a male-dominated field and has provided me with an outlet to connect to and learn from other woman outside of my own discipline. In an E-Board position, I am looking forward to organizing various events that encourage the same connection for other women engineers.
I am also a part of the Human Factors and Ergonomic Society (HFES) and the American Society of Safety Professionals (ASSP). These memberships have provided me with a wealth of information that I tap into all the time during my coursework at UB. I’m looking forward to attending the annual conferences to connect with other students and professionals in my area of interest.
What have you done that you are most proud of?
The thing I'm proudest of during my college experience has been my determination to not give up, no matter how many obstacles I've faced. I just about faced every academic challenge an engineering student possibly could, including failing Calculus II. It’s easy to get discouraged, especially when you are surrounded by so many intelligent people. However, I chose to learn from my weakest moments and pushed forward.
What are you passionate about?
Human Factors! I absolutely love this area of study, especially cognitive ergonomics. This field is closely tied to psychology and I have always been intrigued by the unique capabilities of the brain, especially in how people interpret and understand information.
Since my life doesn’t solely revolve around engineering (although it feels like that sometimes), I do have passions outside of school. I am an avid gardener and self-taught floral designer. I love to be outside and to use my creativity in a different way from how I use it while in school.
Has there been a particular faculty member that has been formative during your time at UB, and how so?
Dr. Jessica Swenson, of the Department of Engineering Education, has been the most formative person in my undergraduate career. During my junior year, I worked as her undergraduate research assistant, where I assisted her in studying the concept of engineering judgement among undergraduate engineering students. It was this experience that I believe paved the way for obtaining my current internship position with the CDC.
She is also a big proponent of supporting women in engineering and has been active in SWE on a professional level. Without my own involvement in SWE, I would have never had the opportunity to meet Dr. Swenson. She always supports my endeavors and has also provided great career advice for which I am very grateful!
What are your future plans?
I aspire to become a safety engineer and work towards improving workplaces for all employees. I am open to going into research or going into industry. At the moment, I do plan to start working and take a break from school before I consider higher education.
What is your advice for prospective students?
It’s okay to fail. It’s okay to pick yourself up and work harder. And It’s okay to change your mind. These statements are so important to keep in mind, especially in engineering school. It’s inevitable that you’ll face challenges that will make you question your decisions. But it’ll be up to you to decide what you learn from your experiences and how you will use your experiences to your advantage. Most importantly, don’t forget to lean on those around you – they’ll be there to help you get back up!
Mary Rola received a 2020 Dean's Undergraduate Achievement Award from the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.