Celebrate Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day on February 25!
By Myra Saturen,
Northampton Community College (NCC) Presidential Ambassador and engineering major Caiyu Li has always loved to build things.
She started out in childhood with origami, a lifetime hobby, sometimes spending whole days constructing a flower or a house. "My dad, (Brian Cook, a Northampton Community College alumnus and mechanical engineer), watched me and noticed that I thought like an engineer," Caiyu says. Cook encouraged Li to consider the field for herself and took her to his workplace. A spark caught.
At Easton Area High School, Li enjoyed building two kinds of trusses with Popsicle sticks and glue for science fairs. "It was fun to see which held up better and could bear more weight," she says. She excelled in math and science; besides having a natural talent, she had studied these subjects in her native China, where students take advanced courses earlier than their American counterparts.
When it came to choosing a college, Li's father recommended NCC: class sizes were small, the student/faculty ratio was low, and the College offered an excellent library and a helpful Learning Center.
Worried that Li might find engineering terms in English overwhelming, her mother, a chemical engineer, suggested a different major. Li, who had arrived in the United States only three years earlier, enrolled in NCC's English as a Second Language (ESL) program and graduated from the program after one semester. She declared her major in engineering.
At NCC, Li is fascinated by her physics and engineering classes, especially the labs. "It is fun to learn how light travels and how much weight a spring can hold," she says.
In physics class, she and her best friend went outside and clapped at the walls as loudly as they could in order to measure the time sound took to hit the surface and return as an echo. "People watching us didn't know what we were doing, but we enjoyed doing it," she says with a smile.
In addition to building knowledge through her courses, Li has created vital links through her participation in the Presidential Ambassador Program. The Presidential Ambassador Program was established by the NCC Foundation to reward academic excellence and to encourage service to college and community. To be eligible, students must graduate in the top 20 percent of their high school classes. Presidential Ambassadors commit to 20 hours of service to the College including assistance at special events, the alumni children's holiday party, the NCC Foundation dinner, the Community Fabrics Awards and other affairs. All presidential ambassadors are awarded full tuition scholarships on the basis of their academic achievements in high school and participation in extracurricular activities.
"When I came to NCC, I felt lost, like an outsider," Li says. "I didn't know anyone." Soon, as a presidential ambassador, Li made many friends and bonded with the College. She has met people in her field at alumni dinners and received valuable career feedback from them. Furthermore, she has forged connections at events such as the Halloween dance. "I feel happy with my life," she says.
Being a presidential ambassador also helps Li in her job as a cashier at a Giant Food Store. "I know how to converse with customers, answer their questions and solve problems," she says.
Li, who will graduate from Northampton Community College in May 2016, has applied to Lafayette College, her first choice. She plans to become a mechanical engineer, ultimately working as a packaging engineer who designs the outside casing for objects. "I want to build a plane or a car," she says.
Li's voice bubbles with excitement as she looks forward to constructing a career in a profession she loves.