Matt McCoy is a double major in mechanical engineering and saxophone performance: jazz studies from Downers Grove, IL
Hometown: Downers Grove, IL
Year: Expected graduation: May 2021
Major: Mechanical Engineering and Jazz Studies
What scholarships did you receive and why did you receive them? How has the financial support impacted your experience at NIU? I received the CEET Ambassador scholarship through my leadership of the Supermileage Team, the Crane Composites Scholarship based on merit, leadership, and need, the NIU Scholars award based on merit, and a School of Music scholarship from an audition. By obtaining these scholarships, I have been able to attend NIU nearly debt-free, which has provided me the opportunity to be heavily involved in and lead the Supermileage Team, conduct research, run the MakerSpace, and have a double major. These are all things that would have been impossible if it weren’t for the scholarships I received!
What did you want to be when you were growing up? Are you pursuing that as a major, or have you taken another path? I grew up in a very musical household but didn’t consider pursuing music until late into high school. I was also mechanically inclined at a young age and my favorite show as a child was “How It’s Made,” so it seemed like a natural progression to major in both music and engineering disciplines in college. I am very fortunate to have discovered my passions early in life and to have had the ability to extensively study both in my time at NIU.
What is your major (and/or minor) and why did you decide on this course of study? I am double majoring in Mechanical Engineering and Saxophone Performance: Jazz Studies. My primary reason for attending NIU was because of the fantastic jazz program and engineering programs offered, which helped solidify my desire to double major at NIU.
What has been something you have found pleasantly surprising about your experience at NIU? Entering my freshman year, I didn’t know anyone who was an engineer, so I was very worried that I wouldn’t be able to obtain an internship or have the knowledge and connections that others might have, but I was surprised by how smooth the transition was. Everyone on campus was very welcoming, which also allowed me to feel comfortable in getting involved in some of the hundreds of activities at NIU.
How have you connected with other students at NIU? My primary means of connecting with students came from the very social nature of the School of Music, more specifically the jazz program, as well as all of the student engineering teams available on campus. In my freshman year, I joined the Supermileage Team, the Mars Rover Team, and became involved in the MakerSpace. The students I connected with on these teams and through the jazz program are still my closest friends today.
Are you involved in any student organizations or extra-curricular activities? If so, which ones? How have they added to your experience as a Huskie? Yes! And everyone should get involved in a student organization if they can. I am the president of the NIU Supermileage Team. We are a collegiate design team that develops the most energy-efficient vehicles possible. I was fortunate to get my start on the team early in my freshman year and worked my way up by serving as the treasurer, then vice president, and I've been serving as the president since August 2019. This team is one of the key reasons for the great internships I have landed as well as the skills I’ve learned as a design engineer, researcher, and leader.
I am also an undergraduate research assistant working with Dr. John Shelton and Dr. Kyu Taek Cho on developing advanced techniques of sensor embedment for “smart” parts using additive manufacturing (3D printing). I have learned countless research skills that will help me in graduate school or a job in industry.
Who has been one of your favorite instructors/professors and why? What course did they teach? My favorite professor in the College of Engineering is Dr. Nicholas Pohlman. I took MEE 383 (Engineering Analysis) and MEE 390 (Experimental Methods) with him, which have been some of my favorite classes at NIU. Dr. Pohlman’s courses help bridge the great divide between very high-level theory and physically working with those principles in the lab.
My favorite professor in the School of Music is Prof. Geof Bradfield. I have taken MUSP 223/323 (saxophone lessons), MUSP 160 (Introduction to Jazz Studies), and MUTC 205 (Jazz Theory) with him. He is an exceptional educator as he is able to craft every lesson to each student. A leading instrumentalist and composer, he pushes students to learn music out of their comfort zone, and is very insightful and helpful in guiding students through their careers — all while being very down to earth and welcoming.
Where is your favorite spot on campus or in the community? Why are you drawn to it? I spend a majority of my time in the Engineering Building and Still Gym, which is where we hold meetings for Supermileage. I also enjoy the newly renovated Holmes Student Center. I’ve spent a lot of time studying there with classmates and working on projects. It’s a great atmosphere that is very conducive to getting things done. Plus, they have great food!
What advice would you give to a student who is applying to colleges? Get involved even if you are nervous or don’t feel like you have learned enough to contribute yet (trust me, you can!). Pursue your passions, and if you don’t know what it is you enjoy yet or want your career to be, explore! There are plenty of opportunities to find what you love at NIU.
Coming to college, what is something that you have had to learn to do differently? If you want to balance a lot of extracurriculars with classes, time management is key! Also, my classes at NIU have taught me to think more critically and to understand concepts at a fundamental level, rather than just trying to memorize everything. Lastly, don’t be afraid to ask for help from other students or professors.
What do you do to relax or recharge? There are some great walking, running, and biking paths around campus. My favorite is the loop around the beautiful East Lagoon. There is also a plethora of fantastic local restaurants near campus to grab a bite to eat. The NIU College of Visual and Performing Arts always has a cool event or performance, so check those out as often as possible! And of course, I watch Netflix every now and then (my favorite show is The West Wing).
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