Riley Campbell // Senior, Aeronautical and Astronautical Engineering; Minor, Communications //  Hometown: Lake Forest, CA

"Today, as a graduating senior, I look back and recognize that MEP ultimately became a second home for me. MEP offered me a sense of security that was often hard to find on a large campus or through other organizations."

Campus Involvement:
Operations/Engineering Intern - Pankl Aerospace Systems
Northrop Grumman SPACE Award (for best overall sophomore aircraft design project)
2D Slosh zero-gravity flight experimentation group (AAE 418 project partnered with Blue Origin)
Volleyball Liaison - Purdue University Intramural Officials Association (executive position in club)


Were you involved with the Minority Engineering Program Summer Engineering Workshops? If yes, what was your role, and how did you benefit from them?

Yes, I participated as a member of the Minority Engineering Program (MEP) Academic Boot Camp (ABC) entering my freshman year at Purdue. The program helped me in several ways. First, by familiarizing myself with the campus before the semester began, I was able to avoid feeling overwhelmed entering a large campus environment. Many incoming freshmen are often concerned about the transition from high school to college. ABC allowed me to reduce those concerns, giving me the chance to focus on my academics. Second, ABC exposed me to the rigor of Purdue's First-Year Engineering program. This allowed me to build the proper study habits required to meet academic expectations before the start of the semester. Finally, through ABC, I was able to build strong friendships with other incoming freshmen students who would be taking the same courses as me during the semester. Walking into a 500-person lecture hall can be somewhat scary when you don't know anyone. ABC allowed me to walk into those large lecture halls with confidence as I knew I'd recognize a familiar face or two. For me it made the whole learning experience less daunting. In short, ABC provided me the resources to start my college career with a strong support group both in and outside the classroom. 

MEP has provided me with the opportunity to work as a counselor/program assistant with the MITE summer program along with other recruitment programs. As a student employee, I'm able to share both my love for Purdue and MEP with prospective students, possibly helping them to make their decision to enroll in Purdue. 

How has the Minority Engineering Program affected you as an engineering student? What do you get through MEP that you don't get from other programs on campus? 

What I have gained from MEP is difficult to put into words simply because they have helped me in so many ways. College is difficult. You need people around you to help you when you're at your lowest lows and you want to celebrate with them when you're at your highest highs. MEP has always been by my side.

During my time at Purdue, there were several moments that I felt I wouldn't be able to meet expectations. So much that I was often left wondering if I made the right choice to study engineering at Purdue. Despite those challenges, MEP leadership was always there to help me. Leaders like Virginia Booth Womack kept her door open to offer me a place to vent and share my concerns. More importantly, she helped me to develop a positive relationship by giving me a chance to share my struggles. She took the time to truly understand me. From that, she was able to provide stories from her life to help me through those situations I was dealing with. A great example was when I was struggling with my work environment. Rather than her presenting a lecture about what to do and what not to do, she offered an alternative. She suggested I cleaned out the old graduate student office and use that as an area to study in private - and it worked! 

MEP offers free tutoring for several of the first-year courses. The service helped me overcome my academic challenges and built my confidence as a student. Today, as a graduating senior, I look back and recognize that MEP ultimately became a second home for me. MEP offered me a sense of security that was often hard to find on a large campus, or through other organizations. To that, I can confidently say that if it weren't for everything MEP has done for me, my path to graduating from one of the best aerospace engineering schools in the nation may have been in jeopardy. 

What is your advice for incoming minority engineering students?

There are two pieces of advice that I wish I had when starting my freshman year. (Although, I'm not sure I would have listened.) The first being: don't bite off more than you can chew. Like many, I found high school quite easy. I assumed that level of ease would transfer into college. My career at Purdue began with dreams of becoming a Navy Officer. As such, I became a member of the Navy ROTC program. Even though I exceeded the maximum credit limits by taking 19 units, my high school ego never wavered that I could do this. What I learned was that I bit off more than I could chew and quickly struggled to stay afloat. My ego put me in a position of failing a course, losing confidence, and questioning my value. That once stellar GPA dropped to a 2.45 and made the upward climb to where I stand today, much more difficult.

The second piece of advice would be to be patient with yourself during your initial years as a Purdue Engineering student. I recall meeting a few Purdue graduates at an event. They were engineering graduates who had forged into successful engineering careers. The advice they gave me was that the first year is rough, but that the academic rigor of Purdue becomes easier as you move deeper into your specific program. Through my first years at Purdue, I was left wondering when things would start to get easier like they said it would. Then one day I had a moment of realization. In order to maintain its stellar reputation, Purdue intentionally developed a curriculum that put freshman and sophomores through the wringer to weed out the weak. Hundreds of thousands of people have survived these first years of engineering and gone on to graduate from Purdue. And there will be even more who do the same after you. While it can sometimes feel like an uphill battle, if you keep your feet moving, you'll find success at the top. So, be patient and don't give up. 

What are your plans after you graduate?

I'm expecting to graduate this May (2021) and am currently in the active search to start my career as either a design engineer or structural engineer in the aerospace industry. My vision is to work in the industry for a few years before attending graduate school to further my education. I love sports and have always been involved in athletics. So further down the line, I think it would be fun to design different sports equipment, tying together my passions for athletics with engineering design. 

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