Camaraderie is what makes Grainger Engineering truly great


Camaraderie is what makes Grainger Engineering truly great

Nathan Ryan

November 9, 2021

It’s age-old advice, you’ve probably heard it a million times this year, but it could not be more accurate that everyone going off to college is in the same boat with making friends and adjusting to their new life—wow I feel like I’m scripting an infomercial right now, but I’m going to give away the punchline so you know it’s legit. I remember my high school graduation party, where every third person said as much to me right after they introduced themself and said something about how the last time they saw me I was barely knee height. Since then, I've taken a dive—headfirst—into college life, and I have only become more passionate about building a collaborative and sociable community that will take people in just like I was. I believe that engineering at UIUC gives us a great platform to do just that.

Nathan Ryan in the Siebel Center for Computer Science

Hi, my name is Nathan, my pronouns are he/they, and I’m a graduating Physics major at UIUC. There are a lot of stereotypes about engineers, but the most universal is that we’re bad at socializing. I consider myself to be a more introverted person, but something I discovered about myself when I was applying to schools is that I cared a lot about the culture of the physics programs. It was disappointing to tour a well-known university only to talk with the students there and find that they rarely collaborated or interacted outside the classroom.

For me, the culture of a department or college extends beyond the clubs or groups that you meet on Quad day or E-night (the engineering specific quad day), and it gets down to how people are forming a community. I knew that I wanted to go to a large research institution, but that is a pretty large category (even if I were to just stay in my home state of Illinois) with many powerhouse schools. Some other criteria had to be the determining factor, and the department culture was a really good way to get an idea of how I'd fit in for my undergraduate years.

I remember the exact day I decided UIUC was the school I wanted to attend, it was an Admitted Physics Students day my senior spring of high school. After everything had wrapped up, we ate lunch with students from the department. Seeing how they interacted with each other—some as friends, others as peers who had met that day, and members of the same student groups—I realized that they were genuinely interested in supporting and uplifting each other. This kind of relationship is encouraged by the department through everything from town halls to the way we’re encouraged to work together on the homework. A stand-out memory is the first day I was in my intro to electricity and magnetism course when Professor Stelzer called on me to answer a question we were supposed to have discussed with our neighbors. Instead of asking me the question; however, he asked me the names of the people sitting around me. Much to my embarrassment, I wasn’t able to answer him, but to this day I can greet them and all of the people I sit with by name.

Some people thrive in cutthroat and competitive environments, and those skills are valuable, but it’s rare to find a department (let alone a whole college) that so universally encourages the students to uplift each other by creating opportunities for them to get together like Engineering Open House, student groups, or department events like Pizza on the Patio (one of the many physics student socials). Every year I have the surreal opportunity to take part in that same Admitted Physics Student program, the one that showed me this college could be my undergraduate home, and I hope that the students who join us have the same experience where they’re invigorated to say hi to the person next to them in their intro to engineering or physics class. You never know if the person next to you is going to be in the same classes for the next however many years, and you will benefit tenfold from the effort you put in to reach out and connect with your peers.