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Q & A with Katie Lyon: Hands-on experiences in 191 schools sparked interest in STEM field

Q & A with Katie Lyon: Hands-on experiences in 191 schools sparked interest in STEM field

Katie Lyon is a 2018 graduate of Burnsville High School. During her time in District 191, she also attended Hidden Valley Elementary, Harriet Bishop Elementary and Eagle Ridge Middle School. She graduated from Iowa State University in 2022 with a degree in Mechanical Engineering and now lives in the Chicago area where she works for Bosch in the Power Solutions department. 

What led you to pursue a career as a mechanical engineer? 

KL: I have always really enjoyed my math and science classes, and my teachers often encouraged me to consider a career in engineering. I took advantage of some of the extra-curricular opportunities offered in middle and high school to get involved in things like the Science Fair and Science Quiz Bowl, both of which helped me expand my knowledge of what a career in science looks like. I also took a few Project Lead the Way classes at Eagle Ridge and BHS that really got me interested in pursuing a career in engineering. The classes made me think both critically and creatively while also typically including some hands-on aspects, which I found to be incredibly engaging. I started my freshman year of college as a chemical engineering major, but realized about halfway through my first semester I was more interested in working with physical systems like cars and robotics, so I made the switch to mechanical engineering.


How did those clubs and activities fuel your passion for the STEM field?

Lyon works for Bosch in the Power Solutions department.

KL: Science Fair, Science Quiz Bowl and Math League all opened my eyes to STEM in slightly different ways. The Science Fair not only allowed me to explore a topic I was interested in, but also showed me how fun science could be. My first project was testing which brand of popcorn resulted in the fewest unpopped kernels. As I continued in the Science Fair through high school, I got to explore more complex topics, like eco-friendly methods of reducing water pollution. I worked with a friend on that project, and we tested to see how efficient certain algae species were at removing heavy metal pollutants from water to simulate the potential they may have in detoxifying polluted ponds and other bodies of water. I was always so impressed with the projects my fellow students completed as well, and it really helped inspire me to see all the creative ways science could be applied to the things people are passionate about.

Science Quiz Bowl and Math League were incredibly fun ways to engage with science and math. While it may not always have felt like we were actively learning a great deal, I remember it was always such a good feeling to answer a question correctly that you didn't know you knew. It also opened my eyes to what all science and math can encompass; the courses offered at BHS are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the applications of science and math in the world. I learned about so many other fields and applications of math that we might only spend a week on in class and it helped me figure out what I was passionate about. (I learned I'm really interested in astrology and applied geometry!) It was also a great way to develop friendships with others interested in STEM. I still talk to some of my Science Quiz Bowl and Math League friends today.

What is it about the field of mechanical engineering that sparks your interest? 

KL: My initial "spark" with mechanical engineering was how versatile and broad the field is. I wasn't sure what I would want to do with my degree when I graduated and I wanted the flexibility to be able to change my mind, both between starting and finishing college, but also potentially making a career change later in life. Mechanical engineers are often referred to as the "jack of all trades" of engineers because we get a taste of most of the other engineering disciplines in school. As a result, after graduation, we can fit well into a variety of industries and roles, including aerospace, automotive, finance, software, power, construction and so many more. 


Who were some teachers or mentors who helped guide you on your career path?

KL: I could list all of my math and science teachers here. They were all incredibly helpful, but Mr. Croatt and Mr. Morgan were especially influential to me. I had Mr. Croatt for both calculus classes, and he never failed to make math interesting and applicable. He was incredible at coming up with interesting ways the concepts we were learning might apply in a variety of fields later in life. I also found his teaching style very helpful, as I felt I was able to understand both the "what" we were doing and also the "why.”

I had Mr. Morgan for physics my senior year, and his class was invaluable in preparing me for physics in college. He was very thorough in teaching the fundamentals and also the process of solving physics problems, which was much different than anything I was used to. To this day, I still use the methods I learned in his class for solving physics problems. He was also able to make the class engaging and memorable by including unique labs and demonstrations.


What are some of the most memorable projects you've gotten to work on?

KL: I've had quite a few cool projects I've gotten to work on! I helped design a communications infrastructure system for an amusement park, which allowed the staff to change music and lighting in different zones of the park and at rides all from a central control room. Before that, the staff would have to run between the individual speakers themselves to even change the volume. It was a challenging project because we had to fit all the construction into about a 5-month off-season, but it was a really interesting one to get to work on!

I got the opportunity to spend a weekend at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway with some of my current colleagues who work on the communication systems between the racecars and their race engineers in the pit lane. They are developing hardware and software to allow for larger amounts of vehicle data (tire wear, weight distribution, component temperatures) to be transferred to the team in real time, which enables the team to give the driver feedback mid-session rather than having to wait until after the car has returned to collect and analyze the data.

I spent the summer after my sophomore year of college as a Manufacturing Equipment Engineering Intern with Tesla out in California, where my team was responsible for designing and upgrading the equipment used to assemble the Model Y cars. During that internship, I got to work with some of the industrial robots used to automate the assembly process, as well as to see how a car comes together from just the bare frame to a fully-functioning vehicle. One of my specific projects was redesigning the equipment used to calibrate the sensors and cameras on the vehicle that can detect things like pedestrians, stop lights and other cars. I was responsible for the project from start to finish, including welding and installing it myself.