Chris English

Chris English

Chris English is a mechanical engineering major from Glen Ellyn, IL

Hometown: Glen Ellyn, IL

Year: Expected graduation: 2024

What scholarships did you receive and why did you receive them? How has the financial support impacted your experience at NIU?
I received a Merit Scholarship, and it allowed me to finish undergraduate studies without debt. Along with a forensics scholarship and my CA-ship, I only had to pay about $500 in my final semester as an undergrad.

What did you want to be when you were growing up? Are you pursuing that as a major, or have you taken another path?
During my formative years, I found myself uncertain about my future career path. While fellow students discovered their passions in art, music, chemistry or the environment, none of my high school classes provided a clear direction for me. However, when the time came to explore college options, I realized my aptitude and interest lay in the STEM field. Particularly drawn to NIU, I was captivated by their engineering programs. What stood out was the emphasis on practical, hands-on work, unlike being confined to a distant lab with minimal visibility and impact. This, combined with the planning and drafting I did for my Eagle Scout project, led me to choose mechanical engineering. I was driven by the prospect of directly witnessing and influencing real-world outcomes.

What is your major (and/or minor) and why did you decide on this course of study?
I chose mechanical engineering as my major because I desired a hands-on experience within a STEM field. While fields like biology or chemistry involve hands-on aspects, the direct visibility of results is often limited. I appreciate that engineering, specifically mechanical engineering, allows me to create a physical object tailored to my vision and witness it perform a specific task. The ability to shape and utilize tangible objects aligns perfectly with my interests and goals.

Have you conducted your own research through Research Rookies, Honors capstones or theses or any other faculty-guided research opportunity?

Tell us about the research you are doing and why it interests you.
During my freshman year at NIU, I had the privilege of participating in the Research Rookies program. I was partnered with Dr. Laurence Lurio, and together, we investigated how the sizing of a cell wall affects its reflective properties. This experience not only introduced me to the world of research, but also opened my eyes to opportunities I might have overlooked. In my sophomore year, I joined the EASEL lab group under Dr. Sachit Butail, focusing on robotics. My specific area involved working on an autonomous robot system designed to function collaboratively. Given my involvement in the Mars Rover Team on campus, this allowed me to expand my understanding of how robots operate individually and in a group. The subsequent year, I had the chance to work on my honors capstone alongside my senior design project. Collaborating with talented engineers and computer science majors — Aaron Beck, Drake Provost and Kameron Gustav — we undertook a project aimed at detecting trace gases on the International Space Station. Building a system that facilitated the passage and detection of gases while maintaining minimal space station impact was a remarkable experience. Creating a successful test bed also taught me the challenges of replicating desired conditions and the need for creative solutions in achieving our goals.

How has conducting research strengthened your education and experience at NIU?
Engaging in research has enhanced my education at NIU by extending my understanding of fundamental principles. In my freshman year, I applied what I learned in Chemistry 210 to practical functions in Dr. Lurio’s lab, bridging theoretical knowledge to hands-on application. Moving into my sophomore year, I started delving into the use of Python, learning how to communicate instructions to robots effectively. Lastly, my senior design project built my technical writing skills. These research opportunities not only enriched my academic journey, but also had a reciprocal impact on the various clubs and organizations I participated in on campus. The skills acquired through research seamlessly translated into my involvement in other areas, allowing me to apply research methodologies in diverse settings.

How will your research experience help you in the future?
The knowledge gained from these research experiences will benefit me in the future, serving as tangible points of reference for potential employers. Beyond that, the skills acquired during these experiences are invaluable. I've honed my abilities in utilizing specialized laboratory equipment and have gained hands-on experience in roles more closely aligned with the industries I aspire to join. Additionally, these experiences have compelled me to articulate my work in a technical manner, a crucial skill in the engineering field, particularly if I choose to pursue a path in research.

Who at NIU has been important to your success doing research and why?
I owe a debt of gratitude to several individuals at NIU who played crucial roles in my research journey, and I want to acknowledge three standout professors who served as excellent advisors. Firstly, Dr. Lurio, whose lab I joined in my freshman year, provided valuable guidance. In my sophomore year, Dr. Butail collaborated with me, outlining expectations for my involvement in his robotics lab. Lastly, Dr. Benedito Fonseca played a pivotal role in supporting our senior design project, contributing significantly to its success.

What advice would you give to an incoming student as it relates to research at NIU?
The advice I would give to an incoming student relating to research at NIU is to go out and find places to do research. Look into your major and what research or engagement opportunities the faculty are involved in, then reach out to them. Research might not be for everyone, but I think everyone should try it to figure out if it's for them.

What has been something you have found pleasantly surprising about your experience at NIU?
Something I found pleasantly surprising about my experience at NIU is how welcoming the clubs and student organizations are. Almost every single one I joined had smiling faces and people who were willing to welcome me into these close-knit groups.

How have you connected with other students to study for classes, meet new people or form new friendships?
One of the biggest ways I've connected with other students is through student organizations. It’s a way to find students who are in the same classes, and we're able to work together through those late nights of hard problems and harder studying. We also get to share in the joy of going to the organization, something we’re both passionate about.

Are you involved in any student organizations, mentoring programs or extra-curricular activities? If so, which ones? How have they added to your experience as a Huskie?
I actively participate in numerous student organizations on campus. The key ones include the NIU Mars Rover Team, Engineers Without Borders, Chemistry Club, NIU Speech Team, NIU SGA Senate and Makers Club. These groups have enriched my college experience, serving as platforms to meet new people and build strong connections. Moreover, they provide unique opportunities, such as hands-on engineering experiences with Rover and Engineers Without Borders, improving public-speaking skills through the Speech Team, engaging my mind differently through Chemistry Club, and learning how to advocate for our community in SGA.

What NIU offices, departments or resources have helped you feel safe, supported and successful? And how?
I think honors has done a lot to help me feel successful, both in the office itself as a calming space and the people who work there and their willingness to help. I also discovered NIU’s NGO program later in my time here at NIU, and every experience I've had with them has been great.

What Honors Program opportunities or support have helped you get closer to your academic or career goals so far?
Due to honors advising, I was able to stay more on track and was more aware of my academic goals and progress, so I could pick courses that would allow me to graduate quicker than I would have otherwise.

What do you enjoy the most about the Honors Program?
The thing I enjoyed most about the Honors Program was in the spring of 2023, when I was able to go on the honors spring break retreat. That was quite enjoyable, as I got to not only get away from schoolwork, but also make new friends I wouldn’t have met otherwise.

Who has been one of your favorite instructors/professors and why? What course did they teach?
Nicholas Pohlman has been one of my favorite professors. He has been one of the best educators, making sure we know not only the answer to a problem, but also how and why we were able to get there. I have had him for two mechanical engineering courses.

How have you benefited by attending class regularly?
By attending class regularly, I am able to not only learn the material better, but also to make connections with the professors. In one case, this actually resulted in me landing an internship with Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory.

Where is your favorite spot on campus or in the community? Why are you drawn to it?
One of my favorite spots on campus is the rock garden next to DuSable Hall. It's a nice, peaceful space, and when the weather's warm and the winds die down enough, you're able to just sit down and relax. I've read a couple of books over there and just enjoyed sitting there, waiting for my next class to start.

What advice would you give to a student who is researching colleges to apply to?
I would tell a student researching colleges to look beyond the basics of if they have your major, etc. Ask yourself what you truly want to get out of the experience. You can learn things almost anywhere; however, the benefits like types of clubs and research opportunities are what truly make a campus unique.

Why is a college education important to you?
A college education is important to me because it allows me to be more prepared before I jump into my career. It also allows me to expand my knowledge and, hopefully, the knowledge of humanity.

What strategies do you use to manage your time between the responsibilities of school, work, friends and family?
To manage my time, I had to learn how to create a schedule and a calendar. By knowing what times were blocked out for classes and work, I knew what times were available for friends, family, clubs, etc. I also include the time it takes to travel to locations, because it allows me to more accurately understand the time I have available for the things I want to do.

How do you stay informed about events and services that are available on campus?
To stay informed about events and services on campus, I read the Northern Star, the honors weekly newsletter and the Huskie newsletter from Student Involvement. I also listen to my friends about what events are going on with different student organizations.

What do you do to relax or recharge?
Depending on how burnt out I am, I'll relax in a couple of ways. Most often, I relax by going to clubs I enjoy. I join clubs and stick with the ones I truly enjoy, so I'm able to go to them as a way to relax. However, if I'm feeling drained, I’ll either watch YouTube or read a book.

Please tell us about your job and hobbies.
Right now, I'm working at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory on multiple projects. I've been working on the interlaminar toughness of various different kinds of cables, as well as the stress and strain a superconducting magnet undergoes as it’s trained up to expected current and magnetic loads. I have also worked to create more efficient ways to hold the magnets. Hobby-wise, a lot of it is club-based, including a lot of planning for events. For the Mars Rover Team, it's a lot of looking at various drawings and figuring out ways to manufacture them using the machine shop here on campus.

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