Author: Eric Swanson, MDE '18 Acoustical Engineering
Event Date: April 30, 2018
“The stars are always aligning in the background.” I find a lot of peace in this simple statement. Many times throughout my collegiate career, I’ve found myself cemented in a state of confusion and discouragement. I’m sure a lot of students, especially Purdue engineering students, can relate. You study for a week straight, completely prepared, only to feel lost when curve balls get thrown your way come exam time. As the semester moves on, you find yourself calculating how many points you’ll need in order to pass the class because no matter your best efforts, you just feel like you’re being defeated. I’ve been in this place so many times that it almost feels like I live there, and I can never overcome these punches. But I’ve recently come to understand that that just isn’t true.

IDES/MDE Senior Class with Director Mary Pilotte and Advisor Chris Pekny

Of course, it feels like you’ll never be able to climb out of these kinds of ruts when you’re deep in them, but as I write this I am in such a good place, personally, academically, and professionally. I have so many amazing friends and family to thank for helping me realize my potential as a man.  But I want to especially highlight one individual who has been more than just a professional mentor and trusted Purdue faculty member; she has been a friend.

Professor Mary Pilotte, director of the Multidisciplinary Engineering and Interdisciplinary Engineering Studies undergraduate program has completely shattered the expectations I had for a professor and mentor. Residing in “The Nest” of the School of Engineering Education, Professor Pilotte directly and indirectly helped pull me out of too many ruts to count. When I felt like my 8-hour workdays in the student lounge were a futile attempt to learn impossibly challenging concepts, she assured me that rewards would be realized by the efforts. When I felt like everyone around me was landing career opportunities and “figuring their life out,” she was there to instill the confidence in me as a young professional, and literally forced me to see in myself what she saw in me as a student. She has taken more unscheduled meetings with me than I can count to offer advice and guidance, even though she had other pressing issues to attend to. Professor Pilotte personally emailed me when my homework for her class started slipping during a time in my life that I was struggling with some personal issues. She not only understood my struggles, but also empathized with me and talked me through them. She was an integral part in my decision to go to Australia for a study abroad program that ended up becoming some of my favorite college memories. She navigates so impeccably through the professional-mentor to mentee-channel, while still maintaining a level of personal investment, that is so refreshing. But most importantly, she genuinely cares.

In a school of 40K+students, it’s easy to see yourself as another number and lose your individuality. I wasn’t just a number in this community.  Professor Pilotte has helped me realize my full potential as a “purple squirrel” as I move into the professional world, and for that I will be ever grateful.