Sibylle Walter

Current Position: PhD Candidate at University of Colorado, Boulder
Sibylle Walter
Highlight Don't get intimidated by the "man's world" of engineering. Don't think that it's all about building things and blowing things up. Engineering is about making life better for all, and is starting to have a more equal work place. Don't think that as an engineer, you will be locked into a job that requires you to build stuff. You can do whatever you want with the degree, including helping people and bettering their lives.
August 8, 2007Her job: M.Sc. Candidate at University of Maryland
Describe what you do in your current work situation? I currently am a Master of Science candidate, researching alternative propulsions. I have not focused on anything in particular, but have worked some with ion engines as well as liquid rocket engines.
Why did you choose engineering? Ever since I was a little girl I have had an unhealthy obsession with rockets, and specifically, how they blast off. In my undergraduate research I worked on liquid rocket engines used for space propulsion, and I am now researching interplanetary travel.
Where did you go to school and what degree(s) do you have? I went to River Hill high school in Clarksville, MD. I attended the University of Maryland, College Park and received a Bachelor of Science in Aerospace Engineering in 2007.
What do you like best about being an engineer? I love that my work makes a difference. Engineering is not generally seen as a profession in which people help each other, but that's essentially what it is all about. This laptop that I am using was engineered for faster and easier communication. The coffee machine I used to make this cup of coffee was engineered so that I can set a timer and have coffee when I wake up, without ever lifting a finger. Also wheelchairs (also motorized ones), medical equipment, toys, transportation, and even food have all been engineered to make our lives more comfortable and safer. So, although my work is applied to rocketry, maybe my engine will transport human beings to Mars, where we will learn more about ourselves and our planet, and thus I will help make a difference.
Which of your career accomplishments are you proudest of? I am proudest of graduating from college (duh :-)). Receiving that diploma was probably the most special moment of my life, as it signified all the hard work that went into it. When I got it framed, the woman at the store was so impressed, just by that simple piece of paper. That's when I realized the weight it had behind it. With that "simple piece of paper," I can do whatever I want.
Please tell us a little about your family. I am the youngest of four. My oldest brother is 10 years older than I am, and has his PhD in civil engineering. He is currently engaged. My sister has her masters in sociology, and works as an ad executive (she is 8 years older). She is married to a computer scientist, and has a wonderful baby daughter who is a genius with wooden blocks. My youngest older brother is 3 years older, and is finishing his masters in game theory, which he hopes to apply to computer software to make even cooler games. All these nerdy kids stem from my dad, who is a mechanical engineer, and my mom, a lawyer. They are the best support group I have ever had in my life.
What are your short-term (1-2 years) and long-term (10+ years) goals? My short-term goals are to get my Masters and find a cool job working with space engines. My long-term goals are, besides a puppy, a house, and a family, to leave a mark on the world and help humans pursue their love for exploration. Specifically, space exploration. I would love to be involved in the Mars expedition missions, and to make that journey faster than 6 months
What (or who) had/has the greatest influence on your life choices? The greatest influence on my life choices are my parents. They expected me to go to college and pursue a challenging major, which I came to expect from myself as well. After having finished my Bachelors, and spending some time being confused as to what I wanted to do with my life, they encouraged me to further my education to ensure that I would have many skills to bring to the work force. Without them, I would not be in the position I am today.
What advice would you give to a young woman considering a career in engineering? Don't get intimidated by the "man's world" of engineering. Don't think that it's all about building things and blowing things up. Engineering is about making life better for all, and is starting to have a more equal work place. Don't think that as an engineer, you will be locked into a job that requires you to build stuff. You can do whatever you want with the degree, including helping people and bettering their lives.
Describe something about your life outside of work: your hobbies, or perhaps a favorite book. If I am not at work, I can usually be found out and about. I have a large group of friends, some engineers, most non-engineers, who like to get together at least once a week. We have dinner, maybe go to a karaoke bar, and just generally have a good time. I also like to hermit for a few hours a week, reading books or watching movies. Currently, I am working my way through a bunch of Tom Clancy novels, followed closely by whatever fantasy books I can get my hands on. I also enjoy hiking, and take many weekends off to explore the state parks in my area.