Engineering Her Future

Most college students get their feet wet professionally after graduation. Erin Heck, a junior in the dual degree program in engineering , dove right into the deep end last summer.

As an intern at Dow AgroSciences, Heck conducted research in a state-of-the-art regulatory lab. “I actually developed an electronic library for the identification of MSn spectra,” says the chemistry major. (That's chem-speak for an instrumental technique used to find impurities in samples.)

“The internship was an amazing opportunity. Dow is a large company, and the lab in Indianapolis is their main headquarters for research and development,” says Heck. She wasn't the only Saint Mary's scientist on the job. Senior biology major Kelly Barnett and Staci Van Lue, a 2006 grad, also spent the summer at Dow.

Through the dual degree program, Heck will earn a B.S. in chemistry from Saint Mary's in four years, and a second B.S. in engineering from the University of Notre Dame following a fifth year of study.

A strong science student in high school, Heck originally thought she'd attend a large research university to explore engineering. She chose Saint Mary's instead for its small size. “Most of my chemistry classes have 15 students or less. That's something I enjoy, because when you're studying science or math, it's very important to get the one-on-one attention from a professor.”

Through the dual degree program, Heck will earn a B.S. in chemistry from Saint Mary's in four years, and a second B.S. in engineering from the University of Notre Dame following a fifth year of study. Her training will give her a distinct edge in the job market, since engineers who combine technical, problem-solving, and communication skills are in high demand.

Heck believes that liberal arts colleges help women to succeed uniquely in the sciences. At Saint Mary's, chemistry majors are a close-knit, supportive bunch. “We're in lab together all week, and we have class together all week. It's like we've developed our own little family.”

Last spring, Heck won a prestigious Clare Booth Luce scholarship covering tuition, books, travel, and an internship. She says the award has freed her to concentrate on the demands of coursework.

Dual degree students enroll in general education and pre-engineering courses at Saint Mary's. They take all engineering classes across the street at Notre Dame. “I'm able to experience the small-class atmosphere over here, but I also have the advantages of taking classes at a large university,” Heck says. “Overall, I feel that this program and the choice that I made are the best of both worlds.”