Olivia Crowell reflects on her UMSL experience as she looks to her future as an engineer

by | Nov 14, 2022

The Honors College student will be graduating in December with a degree in electrical engineering from the UMSL/WUSTL Joint Undergraduate Engineering Program.
Young white woman wearing glasses and a sweater looks straight ahead, smiling.

Olivia Crowell is graduating in December with a degree in electrical engineering after an illustrious college career at the Pierre Laclede Honors College. (Photo by August Jennewein)

In eighth grade, Olivia Crowell wasn’t thinking about her long-term future, but one day some female high school students came to her class recruiting for engineering students, mentioning that “there aren’t enough girls.”

Crowell wasn’t interested. She wanted to be a chef.

At 5 years old, she’d imagined herself hosting a cooking show. But her math teacher saw her potential for science and signed her up to talk with the high schoolers.

The conversation went well enough for Crowell to enter a competition making towers out of marshmallows and dry spaghetti. She won. From that moment, the STEM field stood out as a real option, and she started taking engineering classes in her freshman year at Timberland High School in Wentzville, Missouri.

Crowell, now a senior in the University of Missouri–St. Louis/Washington University Joint Undergraduate Engineering Program, will be graduating in December with a degree in electrical engineering. A member of the Pierre Laclede Honors College, Crowell is set to begin a new job at Ameren, where she is currently working as an intern on system protection.

In high school, Crowell was a well-rounded student who excelled in her studies and extracurricular activities, including competitive swimming and trombone.

Her grades and aptitude for science were so strong that she was one of 101 St. Louis high school students to be selected for the Students and Teachers as Research Scientists program at UMSL, and that’s what ultimately led to her college choice.

The annual six-week summer program pairs high school students with mentors who are top scientific researchers in the region, and they gain hands-on lab experience. Crowell partnered with scientific researcher Elizabeth A. Kellogg and worked in her lab, studying plant biology.

“It was great,” Crowell said. “I loved seeing what research is and getting comfortable with being on a college campus. I learned how to write scientifically, and that was not something I had in my high school classes but was an expectation when I came to college.”

Students in the STARS program are offered a full scholarship to UMSL, and for Crowell, who was being considered by a host of other universities, the idea of attending the Pierre Laclede Honors College and finishing debt-free was ideal. She also received a research grant, which she used the summer after her freshman year.

“I researched aquatics engineering,” Crowell said. “I got into a lab at Wash U. and I researched why the Washington D.C. lead water scandal happened or the Flint water situation as well. I worked underneath a PhD student helping him with his research for the summer.”

Since that time, Crowell continued making the most of her UMSL experience and has been active in the student community. She’s held leadership roles with several student organizations, including being the president of the UMSL Catholic Newman Center, president of the Society of Future Engineers, and vice president of the local chapter of the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers. Crowell has also made a noticeable impact in her department, as noted by her faculty advisor, David Polite.

“Not only is Olivia a good student academically because of natural talent and, more importantly, a solid work ethic, but she’s also generously given back to the UMSL/WUSTL Joint Undergraduate Engineering Program as a student volunteer and mentor and by serving on the Student Advisory Board,” he said. “This commitment to improving the process is fundamental to the mindset of successful engineers, which is why I foresee a bright future for her.”

Through her work and experiences at UMSL, Crowell has grown as a STEM scholar and is now poised to look ahead. Her immediate plan after graduation is to work at Ameren. She is an advocate for sustainability and considers “clean energy to be the driving force of change throughout the world.”

“I’m going to rotate about every six months to a new team,” she said. “I’m hoping to get onto the renewable energy team. I’m excited.”

In the future, Crowell, a lifelong learner, wants to attend graduate school out of the country. Last summer she finally traveled to France, the country where she’d dreamt of being a chef, in an UMSL study abroad program. The experience, which allowed her to practice the French she began studying during her freshman year in high school, heightened her interest in pursuing her master’s degree at an international institution.

“It was great,” she said. “I loved it. The classes were about three weeks, but I was there for a month. I took six credit hours in three weeks, which was a lot. But it was really fun – just learning. Where we were was very French-centric.”

Crowell has already accomplished so much in her 22 years and has maintained a full plate of activities since high school. Instead of looking at her loaded schedule as a burden, she was taught by her mother to “go where you’re invited.” But she also knows how to find balance by setting boundaries regarding her capacity for involvement. This outlook has helped Crowell develop a diverse set of skills, interests and experiences that will fortify her as she approaches life post-graduation.

When reflecting on her time at UMSL, what stands out is relationships.

‘It has been great,” she said. “I have made new friends and a support system in my personal life I know I will have in the next step of my life. I have had experiences that I don’t think I would have had if I went to a different university.”

Wendy Todd

Wendy Todd