Where are you from?
Clifton Park, N.Y.
What made you choose UB?
I chose UB because it had the best quality of education for the most affordable price. It's the only public university in the state that offers the aerospace engineering major. As a bonus, Buffalo is a really cool place and there are a lot of things to do off campus when you get bored.
What do you like most about UB engineering?
My favorite thing about engineering at UB is the community. I've made so many great friends, both in my major and in engineering disciplines outside of my own. The student clubs have been a very welcoming environment, and I wish I had gotten involved sooner.
Why did you choose to go into engineering?
I chose engineering because I had a knack for visual problem solving in high school. I wasn't the best at math or physics, but I loved science fiction and I wanted to be a part of the industry that made the dreams of sci-fi a reality.
What is your favorite place on campus?
My favorite place on campus is probably 333 Hochstetter Hall. That's where the University at Buffalo Nanosatellite Lab (UBNL) is located; it has been like a home away from home for me. I've met some of my best friends there, and we're working on projects that are going into space! It can't get much better than that.
What are you working on?
Currently I am managing one of UBNL's satellite missions, LinkSat, which is a NASA-funded CubeSat with the goal of mapping radio frequency noise across the globe. I am also organizing the events for this year's Engineering Week, which includes the annual Bot Wars competition and the Academic & Engineering Ball. E-Week is my favorite week of the year, so I'm really excited to be able to put all of my effort into planning it.
Tell us about your campus and/or community involvement.
I've been involved in UBNL since my sophomore year. In addition to that, I have volunteered with the UB Society of Women Engineers (SWE) and Women in Science and Engineering (WiSE) clubs to advocate for women in STEM. As a junior, I was the Secretary of the UB American Society of Mechanical Engineers, where I helped build a robot to compete in UB's annual Bot Wars competition (we came in third). I also worked in an aerodynamics research lab last spring with Dr. Ringuette, where I helped build a wing prototype for dye flow visualization experiments.
What have you done that you are most proud of (extracurriculars, research, a project, etc.)?
I am most proud of the work I've done with UBNL. I got to manage an entire satellite mission, which will be going into space! It's been one of the most valuable and exciting experiences of my undergraduate career. Even through the large chunks of time spent trying to de-bug software and make everything work, the stress has been completely worth it. The lab has gone through so many changes, and I'm really excited to see it keep growing and continue to prosper after I leave.
What are you passionate about?
I'm extremely passionate about advocating for women and minorities in STEM. Even though we've come a long way, there are still so many gaps, both in academia and industry. The aerospace field is still only about 6 percent women. To combat this, I've spent time volunteering with SWE and WiSE. With these organizations, I have helped out with high school shadow days geared toward getting young girls interested in STEM careers. I was even invited to speak on a panel at Grand Island High School early this January for Amelia Earhart Day. The point of this panel was to showcase the accomplishments of women in STEM fields, and to inspire middle and high school girls to pursue their dreams.
What are your future plans?
I'm currently trying to go straight into industry after I graduate this year, preferably in the commercial space industry. In the future, I want to pursue a graduate degree in aerospace engineering. I'm still figuring out exactly what kind of career I want to have, and there are so many job opportunities out there right now, so I'm going to wait to go to graduate school until I have a better idea of what field I'd like to specialize in.
Do you have any advice for prospective students?
My advice to prospective students would be don't be afraid to get involved in extracurricular activities as a freshman. The older students that run clubs and organizations are more than willing to include new students in their work. Participating in outside engineering projects not only boosts your resume, it also introduces you to people that may become your best friends at school. The engineering clubs have so much to offer, and there's a club for almost any interest here at UB.
Olivia Gustafson received a 2018 Leaders in Excellence Scholarship from the UB Engineering and Applied Science Alumni Association (UBEAA).