BIG POTENTIAL: The dreams and aspirations of our engineering students are intriguing and as diverse as they are. No matter their backgrounds and majors, our students are here with a purpose: to make a BIG difference in people's lives.
Jordan Burchatz | Mitch Klein | Sydney Schaaf
Vanessa Mpon A Ndonhong
Major/Minor: Chemical Engineering
Hometown: Douala, Cameroon
Class Year/Graduation: Junior
BIG OPPORTUNITIES: After arriving at UNL in fall 2009, Vanessa Mpon A Ndonhong experienced her first Nebraska winter, but she was not deterred. Although the Chemical Engineering student had never experienced snow at home in sunny Cameroon, she was not thwarted by its challenges.
As a two-year-old child she wanted to go to school and convinced her mother to advocate for her; the girl was allowed to sit in on classes and by the end of the year, she was placed into a grade to continue. She graduated from high school in 2006 and got her bachelor’s degree in physics at University of Buea in Cameroon in 2009.
“I knew I wanted to come to the U.S. for more education,” she said. “A family friend who lives in Maryland recommended UNL for its good reputation and its size—not too big for a young woman on her own.”
BIG EXPERIENCES: At first she planned to study computer science and engineering at UNL, since she completed a minor in computer science with her initial degree. Upon arrival in Lincoln, she decided to major in Chemical Engineering. Her goal is to work in environmental and energy sciences; she is most interested in how substances work at the molecular level, especially in how those properties could yield new fuels.
Now a junior, she has a 3.935 grade point average and is active in Tau Beta Pi and Tau Sigma Honors Societies, the National Society of Black Engineers and Engineers Without Borders. Her UNL adviser, Kevin Van Cott, said: "Vanessa was a student in my CHME 114 class last spring. She was an excellent student and performed at the top of the class. Her quiet but confident attitude has really impressed me in all my interactions with her.”
BIG COMMUNITY: She is busy but reserves time to connect daily with her family by phone; she wears a watch that shows the time in Cameroon, but values keeping her commitments in Lincoln. Raised speaking French, she learned English in time for her first college experience in Cameroon; she said now she tends to think in English and translate back to French for her conversations with family and friends.
She described a recent highlight in her life at UNL: meeting NSBE’s national executive director, Dr. Carl Mack, who shared a presentation about community leadership with 100 attendees at campus. She agreed with his focus on strategies for retaining minority students in engineering; he suggested forming study groups that can help with the challenges of academics and beyond.
“You cannot be an engineer just for yourself,” she said. “You have to help the community.”