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UW-Stout Scholars gain personal and professional growth on and off campus

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MENOMONIE — From the start of their college careers, University of Wisconsin-Stout students Erin O’Brien and Nathan Thompson have pursued their goals of travel, teaching, research in hands-on experiences on and off campus, and helping their peers — adding to their personal and professional growth.

O’Brien, an applied mathematics and computer science major with a concentration in math education, is looking forward to her career as a teacher, helping students enjoy learning math.

She will begin her prestudent teaching this fall semester.

Thompson, an applied science and mechanical engineering double major with a concentration in physics, is building character through leadership and volunteer opportunities in his on-campus jobs and involvement activities.

Just having started their senior years on Sept. 7, the Stout Scholars Scholarship recipients reflected on their third-year experiences. O’Brien and Thompson’s full first-, second- and third-year stories are available on the UW-Stout website.

Helping their peers across campus

O’Brien, of South Haven, Minnesota, receives hands-on skills tutoring her peers as a teaching assistant in the Math Teaching and Learning Center — a tutoring center on campus.

“The Math TLC is giving me experience teaching, and I can work around my class and basketball schedule,” she said. “I can go in and talk to the mentors, professors Amanda Larson and Laura Schmidt, anytime and they let me follow through with my own lesson plans.”

Larson believes O’Brien is committed to the success of all students. “She has a true passion for teaching and has a bright future ahead of her as a future teacher,” Larson said.

Thompson, of Woodville, serves as a lab tech in the Controls and Instrumentation Lab and 3D Printing Lab, used by more than 200 students each year for design manufacturing.

“The CI Lab gives us the most hands-on feel for what we’re doing,” Thompson said, “from learning how to use various electrical sensors to designing hydraulic and electrical control circuits to redesigning common manufacturing processes through Programmable Logic Controllers, or PLCs.”

Thompson is also a tour guide with the Admissions Office, introducing students and supporters to campus while offering program-specific information tailored to students’ anticipated majors, he explained.

Mechanical engineering program director Vince Wheeler is happy to see Thompson take on so many roles on campus. “Nathan’s enthusiasm is infectious. He pushes those around him to do better and to enjoy themselves,” he said.

Being a part of a team

O’Brien plays center for the Blue Devils women’s basketball team, which was seeded second in the conference playoffs for the 2021-22 season. O’Brien saw action in 11 games. When she felt she needed to focus more on her academics, she approached her coaches with her concern.

“It was a hard decision to choose between basketball and academics. Choosing a path, you always wish you could do everything,” she said. “But my coaches and team are great support. Our team is like family, and our coaches care about our whole selves as young women, rather than just a basketball team.”

Thompson was part of a research team as a group of his advanced physics classmates led first- and second-year students in a three-month long project, culminating in a final research paper and presentation at UW-Stout’s annual Research Day held on May 3.

Their research was on two-dimensional fluid flow, which applies Bernoulli’s principle on a two-dimensional sample of fluid, he explained.

Thompson thought presenting the group’s research was a rewarding experience. “It was a pleasure to share everything that we had learned with faculty, students and visitors. I loved being able to share my group’s successes and struggles with other students and see what my classmates had to present.”

Building their resumes

After a two-year delay in study abroad because of the pandemic, O’Brien was able to fulfill her goal of traveling during her college career. In May and June, she joined the environment and sustainability course in Hawaii, learning about the local ecosystems and restoration projects on the islands. The group also took side trips to see an active volcano at night, swim at a waterfall, cliff jump and surf.

“Before this trip, I only thought about the academic definition of sustainability or restoration, and now my definition has definitely expanded,” she said. “Hawaii was an amazing experience. I learned so many new things. The group of people I traveled with made it even better.”

This summer, Thompson was a mechanical engineering intern at Oxbo, a world leader in niche agricultural equipment, in Clear Lake. Oxbo manufactures equipment for the harvesting of corn, coffee, beans, olives, grapes, citrus fruits and more.

“I learned new skills in SolidWorks 3D Computer Aided Drafting, helped clients find replacement parts, and updated parts to achieve international standards and improve harvester production life,” he said.

More than 70 UW-Stout students studied abroad or away from campus this past summer in more than 10 countries and programs. And the Cooperative Experience and Internship Program through the Career Services office had a record 1,130 students participate in the 2021-22 academic year.

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