McKenzie Lavelle is a freshman in mechanical science and engineering from Owasso, Okla. Lavelle is a member of the Society of Women Engineers, where she is part of a project team creating a solar generator for developing countries in Africa. And eventually, throughout the course of her four years at Illinois, she hopes to get involved with the solar-cell research on campus.

McKenzie Lavelle

Prior to arriving at Illinois, McKenzie attended the Oklahoma Math and Science Academy. She resides in the Women in Math, Science, and Engineering Living-Learning Community in Florida Avenue Residence Hall and is president of the hall’s funding board. She also belongs to the association of mechanical engineers and the horticulture club.

From Oklahoma to Illinois

“My state school, Oklahoma State University, was my other choice. My dream school was Illinois. As a mechanical engineer, it’s fifth in the nation – it’s an amazing engineering school. But for me it’s out of state, so I never thought that I would be able to pay the $48,000 to come here. Then I got the Engineering Visionary Scholarship, which is a full ride with room and board. I was floored…The scholarship made the dream of coming back to Illinois a reality.”

Choosing Mechanical Engineering

“I’ve always kind of been an engineer, according to my mom. From a very young age, I was taking things apart that I shouldn’t have and I’m the handy person of my house. I was always the one who built the bookshelves and hung stuff. I really like problem solving. When there’s a problem, I fix it. I didn’t even realize until senior year of high school that that’s what I really wanted to do because from a very young age I wanted to be an architect. Then I realized that there were other things out there. I just like building everything and with a mechanical engineering degree I could go do architectural work or I could work with cupcake manufacturing because you can do anything with mechanical engineering.”

Learning to Be a Renaissance Engineer

“Last Fall I took Renaissance Engineering, an Illinois Engineering First Year Experience (IEFX) class. It’s about becoming a more well-rounded engineer, as in the Renaissance man–someone who can apply engineering to almost anything. I concentrated on engineering and horticulture. I bought a variety of plants and compared how horticulture, plant farms, and manufacturing can apply to solar cells. I studied the effects of different environmental conditions on plants to see what would make solar cells more efficient. The class was all about making connections between things that wouldn’t normally be connected to engineering.”

Favorite Place on Campus

“I’m going to have to say even though I’ve only had one class in it, I really like the Mechanical Engineering Lab. It’s the little haven for mechanical engineers. We kind of hide in there and do homework.”

Post Graduate Plans

“I think I want to do something with energy, like wind, solar, or natural gas, which is very broad in itself but I have four years to figure it out and I could change my mind. I’ve been interested in that since seventh grade actually, but again I didn’t realize it until much later.”

The Engineering Visionary Scholarship

These are awarded based on academic ability and leadership potential and recipients are expected to excel in their class work and develop as leaders.