Two NPRE students named Knights of St. Patrick
This year, one in a thousand of Illinois Engineering’s 9,000+ students has been recognized as a Knight of St. Patrick. Two of the students who have achieved the honor are from Nuclear, Plasma, and Radiological Engineering.
Senior Alyssa Hayes and junior Eliza Wright are among the nine students chosen for 2019 knighthood, recognizing leadership, excellence in character, and exceptional contribution to the college and its students. Both women say that becoming a Knight has been a goal since they came to Urbana as freshmen. Both women have made the most of their undergraduate years and, in doing so, have impacted the experiences of other Illinois students.
Definitely, Hayes is a worker. In addition to pursuing her bachelor’s degree in NPRE and serving as a teaching assistant and mentor in NPRE 100 Orientation to NPRE, ENG 100 Engineering Orientation, and NPRE 101 Introduction to Energy Sources, Hayes has devoted time to a number of extra-curricular activities. Among them have been the American Nuclear Society student chapter, the Women in Nuclear organization of which she is currently President, the Illini Ridgebacks Quidditch Team, Women in Engineering, and the Champaign County Humane Society.
For ANS, Hayes helped lead a grassroots student campaign urging state legislators to pass a bill that ultimately saved Exelon Corp. from closing Illinois nuclear plants in Clinton and the Quad Cities. Following that success, Hayes extended her advocacy by traveling to high schools and middle schools throughout the state to tell the students about nuclear power. Serving at the time as Outreach Chair for Women in Nuclear, Hayes helped customize and add demonstrations to the presentations to best suit the audience members’ ages and academic backgrounds.
Hayes credits the work of others in all her activities, and she makes a point of urging younger students to take on increasing responsibilities. “I find it important to teach underclassmen to take their own leadership roles,” she said. “I have been working on encouraging involvement of freshmen engineers in outreach and professional development. These students will be the leaders of ANS and WIN in the future, so they will need to be prepared.”
With plans for graduate school after earning her bachelor’s in May, Hayes’ work on behalf of others continues. Most recently, she has grown her hair with the goal of shaving her head in return for donations to St. Baldrick’s Foundation to combat childhood cancer. Working in partnership with the Illini Against Childhood Cancer, Hayes has set the shave date for March 30, tentatively to be held at the Illini Union. Hayes' goal is to raise $5,000. Go to Hayes' challenge to learn more about how you can help!
“I feel like, if you can help other people, why wouldn’t you?” Hayes said.
In high school, Wright never saw herself as being different just because she was half Caucasian and half African American. Then she got to college, and a fellow student threw a racist slur her way. “Most of the time, I was not in tune to my Black identity,” Wright said. “Then I realized that, even though I thought I was the same as other people, others didn’t.”
Choosing to change attitudes by working within the system, Wright turned to the Morrill Engineering Program and the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) student organization. “When I came to this campus only 1.2 percent of the students were Black,” Wright said. “It’s been getting better, and it will get better.”
Wright is doing her part. A member of the Dean's Student Advisory Committee of Engineering Council, Wright has organized Infusion 2019, a week-long series of events Feb. 11-15 intended to “celebrate the differences in all of us.” Through NSBE, Wright has helped expand middle school and high school outreach efforts, and led in the formation of the NSBEGrad group, encouraging graduate students to begin a mentoring program.
“Through all of this, the improvement on campus I am most proud of is creating a safe space for minority engineers to be mentored and heard,” Wright said. “By creating a community more conducive to open communication, I hope that more people will come together and make positive changes within their organizations, personal lives, and in the college.”
Wright plans to carry her passion forward post-graduation. “I would hope one day I could incorporate it and create a new organization to help disadvantaged people,” she said. “I’m looking into management consulting as a job through all these activities. I consider myself a problem solver and I like a challenge.
“I feel like I need to step up to do it because I have the time and the ability and the voice,” she said.