Armstrong honored for graduate student leadership
MechSE PhD candidate Ashley Armstrong recently received special recognition for her efforts to increase graduate student outreach among her peers. The Graduate College and SAGE (Students Advising on Graduate Education) recognized just a few graduate students at Illinois who have demonstrated outstanding service that has left a positive impact on the campus or wider Urbana-Champaign community. They were honored at a reception earlier in April.
A major factor that led to the recognition was Armstrong’s work with ENVISION (ENgineers Volunteering In STEM educatION). She and fellow MechSE graduate student Matt Milner founded the organization about two years ago, and it’s now a campus Registered Student Organization. ENVISION is a graduate student outreach organization that plans and organizes STEM activities at local K-8 schools and other Urbana-Champaign locations, while providing professional development for its graduate student members.
“STEM outreach activities have a two-fold benefit: graduate students improve their science communication skills, and students’ enthusiasm and attitude towards science is improved,” said Armstrong.
ENVISION has expanded from three members in MechSE to more than 100 members from every department in the College of Engineering and in educational psychology. The group has hosted 26 community events and has collaborated with 15 organizations in the area since 2016. Their focus is on helping minority and socioeconomically disadvantaged students, and they currently reach an average of 200 students per semester.
Armstrong’s advisor, Associate Professor Amy Wagoner Johnson, said her work with ENVISION has clearly highlighted her leadership abilities.
“Ashley’s work with ENVISION and its members has had a lasting impact on several subpopulations of the campus community as well as the Champaign-Urbana community outside of the University,” said Wagoner Johnson.
Armstrong is co-advised by Professor Andrew Alleyne, focusing on the manufacturing of bone scaffolding using a Micro Robotic Deposition System. She also is a member of GradSWE, and has taken on numerous leadership roles within the organization.
Armstrong said that STEM outreach is important to her because of her own introduction to engineering.
“I owe a debt of gratitude to my high school physics teacher, who not only introduced me to the incredible opportunities within engineering, but also helped me develop enough confidence to pursue a degree in the field,” said Armstrong. “This experience taught me the importance of outreach and serves as a constant reminder that by serving as a positive role model, I could one day be the reason why someone may choose a career in STEM. When starting graduate school at the University of Illinois in the fall of 2015, one of my goals was to pay it forward and serve as a mentor to the younger generation in the Champaign-Urbana community with the hope of sparking their interest in STEM.”
She graduated with a BS in mechanical engineering from the University of Notre Dame in 2015. She earned her master’s degree in mechanical engineering at Illinois, and anticipates completing her PhD in 2020.