Whitney Ladzick (E'11) is sitting inside a Blackhawk helicopter on display at a Monterey, Calif., airfield. From there, she has a clear view of her future.
She plans to contribute to the safety of her fellow citizens, like her father who serves in the U.S. Army.
A recipient of the Department of Defense's SMART Scholarship, Ladzick plans to use her education to model dams, bridges, highways and pipelines across the United States.
Her focus? To decrease the vulnerability of our nation's infrastructure to acts of terrorism. At the same time, she hopes to make civil engineering practices overall more sustainable.
Carnegie Mellon University Professor Larry Cartwright describes Ladzick as very bright, articulate and highly motivated. He says she's destined to be a leader.
"There are a multitude of different career paths I can take with a civil engineering degree," acknowledges Ladzick. "But outside of my career, I would really like to inspire young women to take an interest in technical fields like engineering."
She added, "I don't think it is a career considered by many girls, which is unfortunate for our society because women can often bring a fresh perspective to the male-dominated field."
Ladzick will work in water resources engineering after graduation. There she will have the opportunity to work with water-related infrastructure.
She hopes to make the use of long-lasting materials that have very little environmental impact a more common practice.
Ladzick is inspired and motivated by CMU professors like Cartwright.
In her senior design course, the students were asked to build a zip-line using any materials they wanted. Her project team developed an off-the-wall-idea: building an ice structure to support the zip-line.
Instead of questioning the design's feasibility, Cartwright immediately jumped on board. He set the team up with some of his connections in Pittsburgh.
"He was incredibly supportive throughout the process and provided valuable feedback and new ideas," she said.
"Projects like these have made me realize that there is more to engineering than just math and science. More importantly, I've learned engineering can be fun, which has inspired me to continue my studies as a graduate student in civil engineering."
In pursuit of her graduate degree, she also credits Prof. Greg Lowry — her advisor — for his encouragement.
And she points to Prof. Necia Werner for her "genuine interest in each student's strength and success."
"The professors here are incredible," said Ladzick. "I truly don't think I could have gotten the same value out of an education anywhere else."
The two-year Science, Mathematics & Research for Transformation (SMART) Scholarship supports undergrad and grad students pursuing degrees in science, technology, engineering and mathematics disciplines.
The program aims to increase the number of civilian scientists and engineers working at Department of Defense laboratories.