Section Elevating Student Experience
In some sense, Chemical Engineering alumna Samantha Sanders never stopped giving back to Purdue.
During her undergraduate years, she volunteered as a student ambassador, a tutor and a leader in the Minority Engineering Program. “When I was part of those programs at Purdue, I wanted to help prospective students and encourage them,” Sanders says.
After earning her bachelor’s degree in 2006 — with the highest GPA in her class — she went on to earn her master’s and PhD in chemical engineering from Princeton University.
Early career generosity
Today, Sanders works for ExxonMobil in Houston. And she hasn’t stopped thinking of others. To help the next generation of Purdue engineers succeed in the workplace, she has given financial support to Purdue Engineering annually for the past five years.
Sanders contributes to multiple facets of Purdue: the Davidson School of Chemical Engineering, the Minority Engineering Program and the Women in Engineering Program.
Although early in her career, “I am at a stage in my life where I can more easily give back financially,” she says. Plus, her employer, ExxonMobil, provides a generous 3-to-1 match for gifts to education. “For every dollar I give, they give three,” she says, “which helps magnify the impact of my gift. I want to leverage that as well.”
In terms of philanthropy, Sanders admits she has great role models in her parents. And although she received scholarships, her parents also helped pay for her education. She knows that others need more assistance.
“Giving back to programs and scholarships gives people the kind of help they need, academically and financially, to make it through the rigors of the program,” she says.
Early ties and instruction
Growing up in Muncie, Indiana, Sanders was a frequent visitor to Purdue. First, as a tagalong to events in the College of Pharmacy — her parents, Charles and Sarah, are both graduates — and, more frequently, as a fan at Boilermaker football games.
By middle school, Sanders, clearly a bright kid, had already identified engineering as a potential career path. She attended her first Purdue camp the summer after seventh grade, enrolling in a two-week course through a gifted program that, she laughs, basically had her doing math all day. The next summer she attended a camp hosted by Purdue’s Minority Engineering Program. More workshops followed. And more clarity.
“I knew Purdue’s engineering program was really strong,” Sanders says. “And because I had so many learning experiences there, Purdue was kind of a home away from home.”
More than a decade after making the decision to attend Purdue, Sanders still feels the effects of her choice.
“I joked with a professor recently: ‘Sometimes the classes could get a little stressful but working as an engineer can get a little stressful, so that was good preparation,’” Sanders says. “Overall, I enjoyed my time at Purdue.”
Unsurprisingly, Sanders took Purdue by storm. As a freshman, she was part of then-President Martin Jischke’s highly selective President’s Leadership Class; Sanders and her classmates made weekly visits to his home for in-depth discussions.
When she was a junior, Michael Harris, the Robert B. and Virginia V. Covalt Professor of Chemical Engineering, introduced Sanders to the honors research program, where she explored her growing interest in computational research. “As far as I can tell, Samantha will always be proud to be a Boilermaker,” Harris says. “I think she will contribute to Purdue for the rest of her life.”
As a senior, Sanders served as an engineering student ambassador. It was the first full year of the program and an experience that gave her strategic insight into fundraising.
Throughout her undergraduate years, she was active in the Purdue chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) and the Minority Engineering Program. NSBE named an award after Sanders — a surprise revealed during an end-of-the-year senior banquet. NSBE still gives the “Samantha A. Sanders Award” to the senior with the highest graduation GPA. Sanders was the first recipient.
A promising engineer
Virginia Booth Womack, the director of the Minority Engineering Program, first met Sanders when she was a high schooler, wearing overalls and attending STEM workshops. Womack recognized Sanders’ potential early on.
“Her academic excellence, her personal discipline and focus — these are things we really prize in students, qualities we want other students to emulate,” Womack says. “Not only was she academically sharp, but she was very active in leadership roles in different student organizations, which meant she knew how to balance her academics and her personal life.
“She was tireless in what she gave to others. She is the kind of student you don’t forget.”
“Engineering is not easy,” Sanders says. “As I went through graduate school, and now working in the world, people are always talking about the engineering ‘pipeline’ — the pipeline for women, the pipeline for minorities — and ways to strengthen those pipelines. It is important to have that community of support to help you get through school.”
Banner Photo Caption
Samantha Sanders, BSChE '06
Investments in Infrastructure
Expansions and improvements to teaching and learning spaces, laboratories, offices
Elevating Student Experience
Scholarships, student opportunities, diversity programs, student clubs
Dedicated to the Cause
Fundraising, event hosting, activity planning, advisory boards, networking with alumni
Laboratory infrastructure and equipment, project startup funds, graduate student support
Administrative funds, student travel and networking, unexpected opportunities
Rewarding, retaining, recruiting faculty and promoting diversity in engineering