Scholarship recipient: Ashley Stahulak
“It’s my dream job,” she said. “I’ll be designing for communications, navigation, and the radio systems in the cockpit of the aircraft.”
And, although fresh out of college, this isn’t her first gig at Boeing. She had a paid internship there the previous summer—which was actually her third internship as an undergrad. Stahulak recognizes that landing three internships as an undergrad is unusual.
“I think I was a bit of an anomaly. Not a lot of students get an internship after their freshman year,” she said. But she didn’t get them without taking the initiative. After only being on campus about a month, she applied to attend a conference in October with General Electric and was accepted.
“It was a women leadership diversity summit. They flew me to Cincinnati and then at the end of the conference, they held interviews for internships, so that’s how I got the first one. G.E. invited me to New York the following summer. Then my junior year, I interviewed with Boeing at a career fair on campus for the internship last summer. From that, I got offered this job.”
Stahulak is grateful for the experience she gained through the internships, although one she described as difficult.
“I had trouble meeting the deadlines that were set for me,” she said. “Sometimes I felt like they were unrealistic, but at the end of the day, it was my responsibility. I had to meet them. I utilized as many resources as I could—other interns and engineers who knew more than I did.”
Over her four years at Illinois, Stahulak participated in more activities than seems humanly possible.
One example, as a senior, she was selected to teach Engineering 100, a required eight-week seminar class, to 20 aerospace freshman through a program called Engineering Learning Assistance. “I was supplied with a syllabus and lesson plans for each day, but I taught the class alone,” Stahulak said. “It’s to help freshmen get acclimated to campus. In a smaller classroom setting, they learn professional skills like building a resume. They have to give a PowerPoint presentation to learn communications skills. We teach them the basic skills and tell them about what resources are available on campus.”
In teaching the class, Stahulak empathized with what freshman go through.
“When I first came to Illinois, the academics were ok because I retook some of the AP classes from high school, so I already had a background. But being separated from all of my high school friends that first year was hard,” she said. “No one I was close with came to U of I. I was in a long-distance relationship with someone from Glenbard South High School and that didn’t work out, so there were a lot of emotions. My parents had their hands full with my siblings, so I found myself going home a lot on the weekends to hang with my friends in the Chicago area. I didn’t have classes on Monday that first year, so I’d take the bus home for long weekends.
“Looking back, I think I should have stayed more on campus; gritted it out. Once I got my footing in some student groups and made some friends, it was a lot better,” she said.
In the spirit of full disclosure, Stahulak said, “Illinois wasn’t my first choice.” Ultimately, she chose Illinois for two reasons: financial aid and Illinois’ academic reputation.
“When I first came to the U of I, I received two renewable scholarships from the college, as long as I kept my grades at a certain level and one scholarship from Boeing. That helped my decision to come here because it meant my college education was fully paid, including room and board.”
In her senior year, Stahulak also received an Engineering Visionary Scholarship from the college. Funding for these scholarships come from the Grainger Foundation and will match gifts for student scholarships up to $25 million.
“I have four younger sisters. The oldest is just 11, so it was great to be able to take the financial load off of my parents. Coming to Illinois took away the stress of having to worry about the finances.”
Stahulak said she considered a couple of other top schools that seemed more prestigious. “But I knew I wanted to study engineering and with this being one of the best engineering schools in the country, it was a perfect fit. I did consider transferring when I was a freshman to schools I hadn’t applied to the first time around. But I ended up not finishing the application. Toward the end of my freshman year, something changed. I can’t quite put my finger on it. Things just got better so I decided to stay.”
Reflecting on what is a pivotal decision and causes a lot of stress for high school seniors, Stahulak said she believes she made the right choice.
“A friend came to visit me recently and we talked about whether we would have done the same thing if we had the chance to do it all again,” Stahulak said. “I don’t know if I would have had the same opportunities at another school. And I don’t know if I’d be in this same place if I had gone somewhere else – with a job at Boeing waiting for me after graduation like that. I’m very thankful.”
For information about ways you can support the department, including the Engineering Visionary Scholarship Initiative which ends Dec. 31, 2019, contact Tim Cochrane at firstname.lastname@example.org or 217-333-1149.