Biomedical Engineering senior Lilly Roelofs didn't even know she was being considered for this year's Cynthia Oliver Coleman, P.E. Rising Star Award, but she was ecstatic when she received the email announcing her as the recipient in January.
“It was a huge honor to be given an award in the name of Mrs. Cynthia Oliver Coleman,” Roelofs said. “I've gotten to know her previously through her involvement with SWE [Society of Women Engineers], and she is such an inspiration and role model for me. Her support of the incoming generations of women engineers is incredible.”
Roelofs received the award in March, at the 2023 Women in Engineering Celebration. A full gallery of images from that event can be found here. She noted that Coleman asked her to share the three things she was most proud to accomplish in her undergraduate studies. She provided her notes from that night.
“One thing I'm very proud of is the efforts I contributed to organizing our involvement with the WE22 conference as Vice President Internal of SWE-UH. I was able to make this opportunity accessible to many additional UH students and women, as well as promoted further growth of our organization.
“In addition to this, I co-first authored two conference publications during my junior year, one of which received an award at the conference. I never thought I would be able to publish research in my undergrad, especially in such an exciting field as computer-aided diagnosis, so this meant a lot to me!
“Lastly, I'm proud of completing a minor in data science and pushing myself to pursue programming in addition to my major. I didn’t consider coding as something I could be interested in, as I knew nothing about it until college. Through this, I found a unique career that I'm very passionate about.”
When it came to picking a college, Roelofs didn't lack choices when graduating from her high school, Judson Early College Academy in San Antonio. However, after being in a class of about 100 students when she graduated, the environment of UH appealed to her.
“I loved how big the campus was,” she said. “I really wanted to go to a big college. UH checked that mark off. I also liked how close UH was to downtown. I wanted to be closer to the city, so that was perfect. And also, it kind of sounds corny, but I just felt really comfortable on the campus.”
Ultimately, it was a combination of campus size, a competitive financial aid package and the offered courses that made Roelofs enroll. She was also accepted into the Honors Program at UH, which provided her with some of the smaller classes that she was comfortable with from high school.
“It was one of the most affordable options for me. I had received a four year scholarship, so financially that was a really big factor,” she said. “Also, I definitely wanted to major in biomedical engineering and some schools don't offer BME as a program, so I was intrigued when I saw that UH did.”
Roelofs identified several people that she considered instrumental in guiding her toward her academic success, starting with her high school physics teacher, Eric Botello, now at Byron P. Steele II High School in Cibolo, outside of San Antonio.
“Mr. Botello implemented programs like the Engineering Club, Robotics Club, AP Physics, even the opportunity to take calculus classes, and he encouraged me to take advantage of these options,” she said. “Without his involvement, I doubt I would have pursued engineering.”
At UH, Roelofs said a pair of professors in the First-Year Experience Program have been mentors for her throughout her undergraduate work – Jennifer Luna Singh, who is also the director of PROMES, and Marsha Kowal, who is also the director of the Honors Engineering Program.
“Dr. Luna was my Introduction to Engineering professor,” Roelofs said. “She kept in touch with me after, and she also gave me a great letter of recommendation that helped me get into my first research program. That was huge for me. She's now the director of PROMES, so I’ve worked closely with her for SWE. She has gone out of her way to help support student success countless times, and she always has her door open to talk.”
When it came to Kowal, Roelofs said, “I really enjoyed her class. It was one of the greatest factors in my decision to pursue data science as a minor, and more coding-based work, which really changed the trajectory of what I wanted to do after college.”
“Beyond that class, a few years later she recruited me as a mentor for a program she was starting, and I really enjoyed it, so much so that I asked if I could help lead it the following year. Now I organize it with her on a weekly basis, and it’s been an amazing opportunity. Dr. Kowal really cares for students and is willing to help in any way she can.”
Roelofs excels in part because of her disciplined organizational skills. She uses three different methods – Google Calendar, an open Word document to take information down, and an old school, written agenda – depending on what she has access to at the time.
She has stayed busy while at UH, serving as an officer for SWE and volunteering for several other organizations.
“A lot of my on-campus involvement is focused around supporting women in STEM, which I’m really passionate about. I feel very fortunate that I’ve found such welcoming and empowering groups on campus.” she said. “I hope to continue contributing to these causes in my professional career.”
Roelofs graduates this May, and she's already lined up a full-time job that she's excited to start soon after.
“I will be working with Mercury Data Science in the position of a Data Scientist,” she said. “MDS is a software consulting company which builds AI applications for healthcare and life sciences companies. They do really fascinating work that I’m passionate about. I actually started a part-time internship position with them in April, and I am on top of the world!”