WiE Student Profiles

headshot of Olivia Brandt

Olivia Brandt

PhD student, Materials Engineering
Graduate WiE Network Leadership Team

In the Grad WiE Network, Olivia Brandt found community—and her voice.

Initially, Olivia Brandt attended Grad WiE Network meetings for a free mug. Attend six events, program leaders told students, and they would get the gift. "So I kept going," she says, laughing at the memory.

Although a vessel to hold her coffee over the next four years would be a necessity for the first-year graduate student, the mug wasn't what kept Olivia involved. The Grad WiE Network provided fascinating Lunch and Learns featuring alums and industry speakers, casual coffee conversations with peers, and, above all, a sense of community.

"The sense of belonging you get with an affinity group is unique and special," Olivia says. "In grad school, you can get siloed in your research group or department, and sometimes it feels like there's nothing else around you; there's no support you can draw from." Olivia was nearly 2,000 miles away from her hometown of LA—states away from her friends and family. She knew a solid support network would be vital to her thriving in grad school.

"I knew it was going to be tough emotionally, physically and academically," she says. "Having people—especially those who aren't in my department—to draw on, give feedback, or validate that I'm not alone has been really helpful."

Even when COVID-19 restrictions forced cozy coffee chats into online meet-ups in 2020, Olivia was there — mug in hand and engaged as ever. Eventually, she was asked to join the Grad WiE Network Leadership Team, but taking a leading role stretched her confidence. Early on in her graduate career, Olivia was timid. "I didn't speak up in meetings. I just followed the directions I was given," she recollects. "As I grew into this leadership role, it became apparent that this was something I had to take control of. Being this meek, shy person would not benefit me in the long run."

Olivia embraced her new role and decided her first mission was to get the WiE grad community back together post-pandemic. In 2022, she helped organize the first-ever Purdue Grad WiE Network Symposium, "Sharing Your Voice, Making An Impact," for graduate students to build community, support their peers, hear about exciting research, and learn from inspiring alumnae.

Olivia's journey with WiE is as much about professional development as finding her voice and empowering other women engineers. "Embracing different backgrounds and thought patterns—especially women's—will enhance the world," she says.

After graduation, Olivia will work at the Naval Research Lab in Washington, D.C., a career move she attributes to her enriching experiences with WiE. "I've found that I have a voice. It's something I'm still growing into, but I'm trying to make it known that I hold a presence within the department and WiE and to use my voice to impact change." It's a transformational lesson, one she encourages others to explore for themselves within WiE. Offering advice to aspiring women engineers, Olivia says, "You're allowed to have a presence and a voice. Embrace it."

headshot of Lexi Gies

Lexi Gies

Senior, Biomedical Engineering
Mentees and Mentors Leadership Team

Lexi Gies dared to engineer a new career path and leaned on WiE to help her.

Halfway through her sophomore year at Purdue, Lexi Gies decided she didn’t want to be a doctor. For the last year and a half, she had been taking pre-med courses on the engineering track, typical for many pre-med students. However, she discovered a deeper passion for her engineering courses, leading her to consider engineering as a career path. It was a nerve-wracking decision, requiring her to reprioritize her coursework, define new goals and reevaluate her future. “I don’t know that I would have stuck with engineering had I not been invested in WiE,” she reflects.

As a first-year, Lexi participated in Mentees & Mentors (M&M), enrolled in ENGR 19400: Women in Engineering Seminar and joined a live-in learning community where she lived among other engineering students. A self-proclaimed “go-getter,” Lexi says she knew getting involved in a community at Purdue would be critical to her success.

“Having people around to support each other to do our best and find our passions was a necessity for me coming into college,” she explains. She found herself in the company of women students and mentors throughout her courses, extracurriculars and residence hall, all of whom had navigated similar paths and were keen to offer their support and guidance. So when Lexi realized she was making a life-altering decision, she turned to her community.

“Joining M&M, being in a leadership position and living near other women engineers freshman year helped me validate my choice of being an engineer,” she explains. “It gave me confidence.”

Lexi has been on the M&M Leadership Team for three years and says it’s also deeply honed her professional and leadership skills. “It’s been an awesome opportunity to help me grow my professional communication, become very detail oriented and understand how to not only share my thoughts and opinions but value and consider other people’s as well,” she says.

In her role at M&M, Lexi also gets the chance to pay it forward, helping other women in engineering navigate their new lives and coursework, some of whom wonder if they deserve to be in Purdue’s prestigious engineering program at all. Or, like her, if they’ve made the right career choice.

“A big worry first years have is imposter syndrome, or second-guessing whether they deserve to be here. They don’t know if they’re good enough or smart enough,” says Lexi. “I’ve heard from so many students who have benefited from mentorship. Having like-minded women around them has been a huge confidence boost for people.”

For many first-year engineering students, embarking on their journey as Boilermakers is an exhilarating experience. Yet, for some, this initial year can be overshadowed by insecurity and uncertainty. Lexi’s advice to the next generation of engineers is simple yet profound: approach your journey with an open mind.

“Don’t be afraid to pursue something new,” she says. “As long as you have the right people around you, you’ll have the support you need to take a riskier step if that’s something you’re interested in.”

headshot of Clair Xing-Qi Qiao

Claire Xing-Qi Qiao

Senior, Mechanical Engineering
Outreach Leadership Team

The WiE community helped Claire transform academic pressure into personal empowerment.

Claire Xing-Qi Qiao’s high school in Palo Alto, California, was extremely competitive. Failure was not an option. Although she had nothing against her peers wanting to excel, Claire often felt isolated, describing herself as soft-spoken and reserved. “Everyone was competing against each other to be the best,” she says. “I really wanted a change because I learn and work best in a group setting; it’s how I grow.”

This desire for a supportive community led Claire to Purdue University, where she pursued an undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering and became actively involved in the WiE program. This decision marked the beginning of a significant transformation for Claire where community — not competition — was the path to personal and professional excellence.

As a first-year engineering student, Claire became involved in Mentees & Mentors. Monthly meetings with her peers helped her see them as resources, not rivals. “WiE helped me find that community of people who went through the same struggles, who can tell me their stories and experiences and give me their advice,” she says.

Then she learned about WiE’s outreach programs that connect engineering students with pre-college girls to share the Purdue Engineering experience. “I get to share what I do and that they, too, can be in our position and be an engineer,” Claire explains. “I can also remove the stigma that you have to be excellent at math and science to be an engineer. You don’t have to love it to be a successful engineer. I didn’t get that message when I was younger.”

Since participating in WiE and the Outreach Leadership Team, Claire says she is different from the person she was in high school, not simply in her technical skillset but also her self-assurance. “Being on the Outreach Leadership Team, WiE builds and trains you to bring your ideas to the table and make them come to life. I feel like my communication skills and how I present myself have changed a lot since joining the leadership team,” she says.

Pursuing engineering at Purdue is undeniably rigorous and demanding, but Claire and other WiE participants find strength in their community. Rather than competing, they support and uplift one another. It gives them a place to turn to, especially when classes are challenging and failure seems imminent.

“When I failed my first exam, that was really different,” reflects Claire. “Other women in WiE were like, ‘Yeah, I failed a class. But just take it again.’ It’s like, thank goodness, this isn’t the end for me. That was a big change compared to high school.”

Claire’s experience at Purdue has reshaped her perspective on failure. Where once it was seen as a weakness, she now recognizes it as an integral part of learning and growth—a message she is eager to pass on to future engineers.

“The journey is never easy. You’ll have road bumps and potholes, but learn from them,” she advises. “Grow from those experiences, and don’t let them hold you back.”