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Michel Bernardo

Michel joined the MSE program after completing an associate's degree in mechanical, civil, aeronautical, industrial, and material science engineering at Shoreline Community College. She was drawn to the Nanoscience & Molecular Engineering (NME) option that MSE offers. She is also a recipient of the NSF S-STEM scholarship, a program for local community college transfer students to attract and retain underrepresented groups to pursue degrees in engineered materials.

Michel Bernardo, Class of 2024.

Tell us a little about your background. What sparked your interest in engineering, and why did you choose UW MSE?

I kept switching my major. I didn't know exactly what I wanted to do. I tried health. I even tried real estate, and nothing was really vibing. And I realized that I was just taking classes and spending money and I didn't even know if it was going to count towards anything. So I left school for a couple of years. And then when I decided to go back, I took a career personality test. It said, “You'd be great as an engineer.” Okay, what kind? So I took an engineering personality test and the three that came up were nano engineering, chemical engineering, and environmental engineering.

Nano engineering was at the top of the list, and I had never even heard of it. When I started to research about it, it brought me to the UW website, and then I saw MSE. I was reading up on the website and thought it looked like a really fascinating field. It's not just engineering and it's not just science – it’s a nice pairing between the two, which I just thought was great. And then they also had the [NME] option attached to the MSE degree. I was just like, okay, that's what I'm doing!

What is it like being a transfer college student? Why did you choose this path?

It's definitely a zigzag path. I took a couple of years off from graduating high school before going to college. I tried to go to school first in San Diego, but I didn't get approved for financial aid there, so I just couldn't afford school. But my mom is up here, and I realized the school system was a lot better than it is in California. Up here [transferring] from Shoreline to the UW, you guys have been so great, contacting me left and right, making sure I have everything that I need. And that's really helpful.

Coming into the UW at first, I didn't know anybody as a transfer student. And now I have this little niche of five to six friends that are all transfer students. We all weren't here last year, and [then] first day of lab, we're in the same group and then we just haven't parted since! It's nice because there's that comradery there with another transfer student, because they're struggling with the same things that you are. The campus is so big you don't know where certain resources are, or you’ve just never even heard of them. It's been really helpful to have people in the same boat as you to help [or] tell you their experiences and you could share theirs.

What challenges have you had to overcome to get here?

I have a disability, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). I'm not [someone] who goes into something and just follows it from A to Z. When I get into something, I want to see it from all sides so that I really fully know it. Sometimes things just take longer for me to grasp. So I've dealt with a lot of struggles with that, but working with the disability office, both at Shoreline and the UW has been really helpful.

I'm also a first-generation college student, so I didn't really have any direction. I made a lot of mistakes trying to figure out what processes and what applications and what I'm supposed to do and what courses I'm supposed to take.

What is the NSF S-STEM program and what is your connection to it?

It's a STEM scholarship awarded to transfer students who are in financial need. They have biweekly meetings and there's newsletters and emails that get sent out. They have people from different companies come and talk about their paths from school [to] where they are in their career and what brought them there. We had the career center come and do a talk. We had different professors come and talk about research. They've had so many different meetings on so many helpful topics.

Participation is actually part of the requirement of having the scholarship, but I think it's just an added benefit. [The program] also provides mentorship, and if there's any staff or faculty that we want to get to know, they will help connect you. We get to have access to different research labs to explore different options. So it really is one of the best resources I've had at the UW.

The purpose of this particular scholarship is to attract more underrepresented students to materials engineering. What does diversity in STEM mean to you?

When I think [about] diversity, I always think of ethnicity and culture. I'm multiracial – half Filipino, half Italian – so I know what it is to come from two different backgrounds and have a different insight on things that another person who wasn't from that background would even know about. It's beliefs, it's your social interactions, the way you were brought up, your manners, your respect. I think [diversity] encompasses all of that. And I think that's very important when it comes to a career, because then you really see things from different perspectives that you would not have had otherwise.

I do think of women too when I think about diversity, being in a STEM group. Women are such a small group in STEM. Diversity is bringing more females into the engineering and STEM field, [which] I think is really important because it is a male dominated field. There’s a lot of women that have a lot to offer, and that's something that should be highlighted more.