Feb 182010
Authors: Sara Michael

At the mention of engineers, the image of a bespectacled geek clutching books, wearing a calculator around the neck and bent over keyboard typing like there’s no tomorrow spring to mind.

But CSU’s engineers smile, laugh and take it in stride, particularly during National Engineers Week, ending today.

“I am nerdy. I won’t lie,” says senior chemical engineer major Liesel Mundhenke with a giggle. Her face, free of glasses holds a shining devotion when she talks about her work, and her laugh carries on the air.

“Engineering is a struggle. But that’s what makes it fun, really.

The challenge makes it worthwhile,” she says.

Fellow senior chemical and biological engineer Mohamed Eldiery agreed.

“I’m sure (that stereotype) is fairly true,” he says, smirking. But his face eases into a true smile as he adds that the isolation of the department forms a kind of community.

As an international student from Baniswaif, Egypt, Eldiery says that the biggest cultural difference between his home and Colorado is that society here tends to be a bit more isolated. He said he feels he fits right into his department.

“We do spend a lot of time in the labs, but that’s what makes us engineers,” he said.

Crossing the bridge from the Lory Student Center to the Engineering Building is like entering a secret society, privy only to those intelligent enough to navigate its curriculum.

Wide windows from the hushed halls look onto the sunken three-story NASA-scale room that is the Thermal Fluid Lab, full of students circulating the intense, space-center-like machines.

Their lounges are full of blinking lights and the muted sounds of typing, lulled over by the quiet murmur of students at work. The computer screens display rotating 3D structures and complex graphs –– no word processing programs in sight.

“I was always good at math,” says senior civil engineering major Scott McCord when asked what drew him to the field.

Eldiery echoes that statement as he walks through the building. “There’s just something about it … some people get excited about writing. I get turned on by math.”

Both Eldiery and Mundhenke have ventured into the biological side of chemistry and plan to continue on to medical school.
For their student design projects, the two work on a team with the Health and Exercise Department to try and detect cancer through analyzing blood cells.

“This project could revolutionize the way we see cancer,” Mundhenke says, her eyes shining. “It’s exciting.”

But McCord and fellow senior Julie Heitlan plan to continue from civil engineering into graduate school, focusing on structural design.
Heitlan says she would love to design high-rise buildings­ ­–– hotels or office buildings –– “something unique and tall, like the Empire State Building.”

She and Mundhenke break the mold when it comes to their department.

“There aren’t a lot of girls. It’s true,” Mundhenke says, laughing. “But it’s not a big deal. A lot of my best friends are guys.”

Heitman has a sly smile on her face at the mention of the unequal gender divide.

“I don’t mind the fact that there are a lot of guys,” she says. “Guys are surprised at smartness, and it’s fun.”
And, they all say, engineers have a life outside of engineering, too.

In addition to his on-average eight hours of nightly homework, Eldiery founded the CSU organization Muslims Against Hunger, which volunteers with food pantries and cooks for the homeless.

“We help bring down the (negative) stereotype that (Western culture) has about Muslims,” he said. “We just help people, no strings attached.”

He also does archery, basketball, running and skiing when he finds time.

Mundhenke says she loves to hike as often as possible and cooks in her spare time, saying, “It’s all chemistry.”
And her favorite thing about the program?

“Well, the no sleeping thing is a huge plus,” she says with sarcasm, laughing.

McCord likes the mix of people in the department. From outdoorsy types to “those guys who took apart and reassembled their lawnmowers for fun when they were young,” he says they have all kinds.

“I’ve always wanted to be an engineer,” he says. “The people who succeed are the ones who feel the call of engineering … I heard it.”

Staff writer Sara Michael can be reached at news@collegian.com.

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