Learning about herself while honing civil engineering skills

Contact: Cindy Wagner

KALAMAZOO, Mich.—Time value of money, net present value, internal rate of return, depreciation, taxes and inflation: These topics may not come immediately to mind when considering a degree in engineering. But for senior Lila Rode, studying engineering economics was her best academic experience so far.

“It was the heaviest course workload I have ever taken on as a WMU student, yet it was where I learned the most about my learning and studying habits and it really made me rethink what I need prioritize as a student to get the most out of my academics,” says Rode of the required engineering economy course taught by Dr. Bob White, professor of industrial and entrepreneurial engineering and engineering management.

Rode is putting those priorities to use as a civil engineering major who plans to graduate in spring 2023. “I have always enjoyed subjects related to the STEM field and have had a deep passion for helping the environment. Civil engineering combines both of these,” says Rode, explaining that she made the realization of this connection through internships and hands-on experiences in the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences.

Using her education to benefit the environment could come in many forms—addressing infrastructure geared towards wildlife, such as wildlife overpasses, transportation systems and their impact on the environment, and pedestrian issues in cities. “The disturbance of ecosystems by the transportation system is apparent, and I want to help mitigate a problem and begin to create a future where our infrastructure can coexist with nature without causing harm.”

It’s a big goal, but Rode is confident in her pursuits … confident and patient. “One of the issues in civil engineering is lack of funding,” she explains. “Many projects that can have the most impact on every day people are funded by the government, and many project budgets are stretched quite thin, so it can take time to bring these changes to fruition.”  

In addition to exploring her field, one of Rode’s priorities has been to be experience as much as possible while being a student. She’s a member of Western’s Alpha Lambda Delta, the concrete canoe team and the geology club. She completed two civil engineering internships including with Anderson, Eckstein & Westrick and with the city of Kalamazoo's Department of Public Services. Rode spent two years as a student supervisor for WMU dining services and now works as a tutor in the Student Success Centers in the college.

“I decided to become a tutor because I enjoyed the idea of advancing my own studies while also helping other students learn,” says Rode. “I also just really enjoy some of the base engineering courses and hope to share my passion for those subjects. I think the reward for this job is seeing other students succeed in many of the early, tough classes and leave with a better understanding of the fundamental engineering courses.” Rode tutors civil engineering but also finds herself busy tutoring students in statics and mechanics of materials.

She is doing all this while planning a career and master’s degree. “I hope that within the next five years I will have at least found a job in a field either related to environmental consulting or within a municipality (city or county) or the federal government. By that time, I also hope to have moved on to a graduate program to pursue a degree in something related to geotechnical or geological engineering.”

Follow Rode’s evolving engineering career on LinkedIn.

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