Erica Magnuson embodies what it means to get the most out of your education

December 16, 2018

Class of 2018: Erica Magnuson embodies what it means to get the most out of your education.

On the post-graduation emotional continuum that runs from nervous to excited, Erica Magnuson is definitely enjoying life on the latter end of the spectrum. She has good reason to be so relaxed: Having already landed that first after-college job, she’s put a check in the box next to the obvious stressor for new graduates. Even better, she’ll be heading off to DTE Energy, where having completed three internships, she’s already something of a familiar face.

It’s the culmination of a four-year academic career in which the Riverview native has pretty much done it all, done it well and done it more or less according to plan. Magnuson started at UM-Dearborn with an interest in engineering, and by the end of her freshman year’s full menu of intro classes, she was already zeroing in on the type of engineering that called to her.

“I remember when Dr. [Armen] Zakarian, the industrial engineering chair, came into class and presented what we could do with industrial engineering,” she said. “At that point, I still didn’t even really know what industrial engineering was. But he told us that they had students who interned at Disney World and in the entertainment industry, and I just remember feeling like I had all these options that I’d never really thought about.”

Beyond the allure of big-name employers, it was also a discipline that matched her interests. A self-described “process person,” she loved that the industrial engineering field focused more on the design and improvement of methods and systems rather than the engineering of components and physical stuff. It also had a ton of applications: As an industrial engineer, she could work on everything from optimizing assembly lines, to managing sustainability issues, to reenvisioning work spaces to be more ergonomically sound. The time she got to redesign the office of a local veterinarian, she said, still ranks as one of her most memorable class projects.

Her early bet on industrial engineering turned out to be the right one, and her resume is now loaded with honors and memorable experiences. Magnuson has been on the dean’s list a total of eight times; and she’s also earned multiple scholarships, including the $10,000 Ford Motor Company Alan Mulally Leadership in Engineering Scholarship, which is awarded to only 10 students nationwide. When she took her commencement walk on Saturday, she did so with a Chancellor's Medallion around her neck — an honor awarded to only five students per graduating class.

Outside the classroom, the experiences have been just as meaningful. The summer after freshman year, she doubled as a campus orientation guide and a tutor in her college’s STEM Start program, which helps incoming freshmen bolster their math skills. She’s served with numerous clubs, including the Society of Women Engineers. And since her junior year, she’s led Engineering 100 labs — one of only a few TA positions offered to undergraduates.

The latter has been a particularly memorable experience, in part because it offered a chance to help new students chart their own paths through an increasingly diverse engineering universe — the way mentors at UM-Dearborn did for her.

“It’s also been really challenging — in a good way,” Magnuson said. “You learn that there’s a lot of diversity in the way people learn and think. The way you approach something might be totally different than the way somebody else does, based on what your experiences are. Often the best solution or design comes from meshing ideas together and getting the most well-rounded perspectives. And in that setting, I learned a lot about how to make sure no one was left out.”

Those next-level perspectives aren’t exactly what you’d expect from a rookie engineer. But they’re music to the ears of all her mentors, who she said have stressed the need for developing strong team and people skills in additional to mastering calculus and physics. That’s very much the profile of an engineer of the future. And as Magnuson gets ready to leave UM-Dearborn, it’s hard to argue she doesn’t already look the part.

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