Engineering an “Only at GW” Education

March 10, 2016

“She really enjoyed that Kit-Kat.”

Normally, that kind of simple comment wouldn’t stand out to Michaela Stanch, SEAS ’17, when she’s working as an usher and occasional intermission candy vendor for events at GW’s Lisner Auditorium, but when it’s made by the security detail for Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg—it stands out.

When Justice Ginsburg came to Lisner to enjoy a performance by the Washington Concert Opera last fall, it was Michaela who got to serve her during intermission. The two shared a nice conversation, and Michaela helped the judicial juggernaut select a snack, a Kit-Kat. They even snapped a quick picture together.

Supreme Court Selfie: Michaela Stanch, SEAS ’17, and Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg snapped a quick photo together during intermission at a Lisner Auditorium performance last fall.

“While I’ve had many unforgettable ‘Only at GW’ moments at Lisner—including working events for the [D.C./Maryland/Virginia] Ethiopian community, for the first lady of Ukraine, for the queen of the punk movement, Patti Smith, and so many more—but this one was really incredible,” Michaela says with a smile.

A junior in the School of Engineering & Applied Science, Michaela says that being exposed to such a variety of different cultural experiences while studying at a top-tier engineering school is something GW offered that no other schools did. Coming out of high school, Michaela knew she wanted to study engineering but had a lot of other interests that she wanted to explore as well. “I didn’t want to go to just an engineering school, I wanted a school with everything,” she recalls.

“GW is a place that really encourages us to test and explore,” adds the Civil Engineering major. “GW students aren’t just passionate about what they love, they also love to learn what you’re passionate about—we want to learn about everything!”

But Michaela says that she wouldn’t have been able to take advantage of the diverse and engaging learning environment that GW has to offer if it wasn’t for the scholarship award she received and the support of GW Power & Promise donors. Established in 2009, the Power & Promise fund for student aid ensures that students like Michaela Stanch, regardless of financial resources, can take full advantage of a GW education.

“This scholarship gives me the freedom to pursue my passions without being a burden on my family,” says Michaela. “GW has really opened my eyes to the many ways I can benefit society through engineering.”

After seeing how the impoverished communities her family visited during their annual mission trips to Mexico struggled with basic needs, Michaela realized she wanted to serve those types of communities and was drawn to civil engineering, which, she says, has a real focus on people.

As a freshman at SEAS, Michaela decided to pursue the Civil Engineering department’s environmental engineering concentration because of that same desire to provide people basic needs like clean water, sanitary waste disposal, and a roof over their head. That decision led to her serving as a “water fellow” at Saha Global—a non-profit focused on providing access to clean water and electricity to rural communities—the summer after her first year at GW.

It was an experience that really opened her eyes, she says.

“If it wasn’t for receiving this scholarship, I wouldn’t have been able to come to GW and have all these experiences.” — Michaela Stanch, SEAS ’17

“My job as a fellow was to not just help build a simple water treatment system in this rural community in Ghana, but to assist in setting up a clean water business by surveying and educating the community,” she says. “I really learned that sometimes just the engineering side is not enough, and I got really interested in both international affairs and public health and the way they work hand-in-hand with the engineering I’d been studying.”

When she returned to GW, Michaela decided to pursue a minor in International Affairs from GW’s nationally-ranked Elliott School of International Affairs. The Texas native says that being able to speak with faculty members like Emily Rand, a water and sanitation specialist at the World Bank who lectures in the Milken Institute School of Public Health, has also been a tremendous help in better understanding the direction she can take her passions.

“Talking with professors about the paths they took and learning from their experiences, I can’t fully express the value of that,” she says. “Having access to these kinds of experts in engineering, international affairs, and public health is something that I don’t think would have been possible at any school other than GW.”

Michaela has also flourished outside of the classroom, serving as a tour guide for GW’s Mount Vernon Campus, the multicultural head peer educator for GW Students Against Sexual Assault, and event coordinator for GW’s student chapter of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE). She even presented at the annual competition between ASCE student chapters last year.

Throughout all her endeavors, and as she begins to look towards what the future might hold—possibly the Peace Corps first, which she admits isn’t a normal route for an engineer—the important role the support of Power & Promise donors has played in her time at GW hasn’t been lost on Michaela.

“If it wasn’t for receiving this scholarship, I wouldn’t have been able to come to GW and have all these experiences,” she says. “I’m so grateful to GW donors for believing in me and investing in my future.”