The class of 2021 spent their senior year managing life during a global pandemic. Despite the university's move to online learning and social distancing, they continued to excel both in and out of the classroom. Many took part in undergraduate research, were leaders in student organizations and formed new connections with fellow students and faculty. 

And now, as we prepare to move forward with life post-COVID, these same students are readying themselves for the new beginnings and opportunities they'll face as alumni of Washington University in St. Louis.

Meet the valedictorians of the McKelvey School of Engineering and learn which accomplishments they're most proud of, what they're looking forward to after graduation and what they've come to love about WashU.


Ian Hudson

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Hometown
St. Louis, Missouri

Major/Academic Program
First major: Computer Science; Second major, Mathematical Sciences

Extracurriculars and other activities
Math Club and Undergraduate Math Seminar Group

What are your post-graduation plans?
Go to WashU for one more year and complete the BS/MS program in computer science.

What's your favorite memory from your time at WashU?
Playing board games with the Math Club. The people in Math Club were very welcoming of me and anyone who wanted to join, and they always had a lot of fun playing all sorts of board games with each other. 

Name a faculty or staff member who played in important role in your WashU experience.
Professor [Rachel] Roberts was my math teacher for Intro to Topology. The content in the class was difficult, but she gave really good intuition in her explanations, which made it much easier to understand. My enjoyment of the class was the reason why I wanted to take more upper-level math classes. She was always willing to spend time in office hours helping me understand topology.

What is your favorite place on campus?
I like walking around Mudd Field at night time. It's very peaceful, and the lights from the surrounding buildings look nice. It's a view that you don't get to see very often.

As you prepare to take the next steps in your career or education, what are you most excited about?
I'm excited to begin my master's program. I would like to be able to delve more deeply into a specific topic in computer science.

What drew you to study engineering? Why did you pick the field of engineering that you did?
I picked computer science because in high school I had a lot of fun working on programming projects with my friends. We always had a good time trying to solve problems and come up with new ideas. My favorite part of computer science is still working with other people, no matter whether it's on programming, problem sets or other types of projects.


Rachel Jakes

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Hometown
Columbus, Ohio 

Major/Academic Program
Major: Biomedical Engineering; Minors: Music, Computer Science

Extracurriculars and other activities
Alpha Omega Epsilon (president, secretary, recruitment chair); WUSTL Club Softball (treasurer); Overflow Campus Ministry; Ratio Christi; Symphony Orchestra; Wind Ensemble; WAGS; Langsdorf Fellows; Tau Beta Pi; Alpha Eta Mu Beta; undergraduate student research at the School of Medicine; lead calculus residential peer mentor; and teaching assistant for EnMath A and B

What are your post-graduation plans?
I will be pursuing a PhD in biomedical engineering with a focus in neural engineering at Case Western Reserve University.

What advice do you wish you had known during your first year at WashU?
I wish I had known that transitioning from high school to college is more than just academic and can take longer than a couple weeks. Yes, WashU courses are different than your average high school class, but even more than that, your first year of college consists of life adjustments such as finding new friends, figuring out the best food options, settling into study spots on campus, and working out the best time to run four loads of laundry when you finally run out of socks. My advice is to allow yourself time to adjust to all areas of life and to not get frustrated if it takes a little while to feel at home.

Why did you decide to attend WashU?
When I visited WashU as a junior in high school, it immediately felt like home; from the gorgeous campus to the hospitality that treated me like family. From an academic perspective, I was drawn to WashU because of students’ capacity to pursue studies in multiple fields at a high caliber. For example, I have been able to pursue a music minor, including a performing arts study abroad program, alongside my engineering degree. 

As you prepare to take the next steps in your career or education, what are you most excited about?
I am excited to explore deeper into the field of neural engineering by applying the knowledge I’ve gained thus far to improve lives. I will be conducting research through a VA medical center during my PhD, and I am looking forward to interacting with patients directly as a biomedical engineer.

What drew you to study engineering? Why did you pick the field of engineering that you did?
I chose to study engineering because I wanted to combine creativity with my passion for math and science to improve the world. I see biomedical engineering as the intersection between scientific discovery and practicality, between the furthering of knowledge, and thus the human race, and the application of that knowledge to improve individual lives. Specifically, BME has been a great outlet for me to explore my interests in neuroscience while gaining the tools necessary to convert that information into impactful technology.

What is your favorite WashU tradition? Why?
I love the rite of passage of painting the underpass between the South 40 and Danforth Campus in support of one of my student groups. Hanging out with friends and working together to bring your artistic advertisement to life while jamming to music is a great way to start any weekend.


Camryn Kenkel

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Hometown
Boulder, Colorado

Major/Academic Program
Major: Biomedical Engineering; Minor, Spanish 

Extracurriculars and other activities
CampusY — Promoting Active Lifestyles (PALs) and Society of Women Engineers

What are your post-graduation plans?
I will be attending medical school in the fall at the NYU Grossman School of Medicine

What advice do you wish you had known during your first year at WashU?
As a first year, I wish I had known how important it was to be true to myself. All of my most memorable and formative experiences in college have come from activities that I truly wanted to engage in for the sake of the experience, not because it was something I thought I should be doing.

Name a faculty or staff member who played in important role in your WashU experience.
Patricia Widder, a lecturer in the Department of Biomedical Engineering, has been an incredible teacher and mentor. She genuinely cares about the success and wellbeing of each and every student she works with. From helping us with crossword puzzles to giving us rubber ducks to help with coding, she keeps BME fun. My WashU experience would not have been the same without her! 

What is your favorite place on campus?
My favorite place on campus is near the fountains outside of Schnuck Pavilion. On sunny days, the area is filled with students socializing and studying at the tables. The sound of the flowing water and the view of Brookings Hall is the perfect backdrop.

What drew you to study engineering? Why did you pick the field of engineering that you did?
Although I had no experience with engineering in high school, I decided to study engineering because it is a challenging field that encourages innovation and collaboration to drive society towards the future. After I had to wear a back brace in high school for scoliosis, I was drawn to biomedical engineering as a way to use critical thinking and analysis to help other people with their health problems. Now that I have decided to attend medical school, I know that the skills I've learned in BME will enable me to continue to innovate and push the boundaries in medicine. 

What will you miss most at WashU?
The thing I will miss the most after I leave WashU is without a doubt the people. WashU has a really special community that has been the highlight of my experience since freshman year. I'll miss my interactions with supportive faculty and friendly staff on campus, run-ins with casual acquaintances, and most of all, I'll miss living such a short distance away from some of the best friends I ever could've hoped for.


Shuhao Li 

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Hometown
Nanjing, China

Major/Academic Program
First major: Computer Science; Second Major: Mathematics; Minor: Physics

Extracurriculars and other activities
Tau Beta Pi Engineering Honor Society; WashU Math Club; and WashU Math Circle 

What are your post-graduation plans?
I will start the PhD program in mathematics at Stony Brook University. 

What's your favorite memory from your time at WashU?
Many of my favorite times at WashU are from Math Club meetings every Friday (pre-COVID), when we discuss math, solve problems, eat pizza and play board games. One of my favorite memories is when we went to Fitz's in the Delmar Loop to have lunch on the day of the annual Putnam mathematical competition together with some math and physics professors.

What advice do you wish you had known during your first year at WashU?
I wish that I had spent much more time reading books in different areas.

What is your favorite place on campus?
My favorite place on campus is Level B of the Olin Library. It is usually less crowded than the other floors, and when I feel like procrastinating, I can spend half an hour browsing through books in various sections.

As you prepare to take the next steps in your career or education, what are you most excited about?
I am excited about delving into and specializing into areas of research that I am fascinated about. 

What will you miss most at WashU?
The smell of coffee at Whispers Café and the Bottomless Coffee Mug program.

COVID-19 has had an immense impact on your educational experience. How do you feel about it?
I feel less productive working from home, and the discussions with my peers and professors much less natural than before, but having to get used to working from home also helps me develop habits to help me concentrate on work. I am also happy to see and take advantage of more online opportunities during this period, e.g. online conferences, online courses and online concerts. I am especially happy to see people, even Fields medalists, that make accessible high-quality educational videos on YouTube that can be viewed by anyone. I hope to see some of these continue after the pandemic.


Ally Persky 

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Hometown
Solon, Ohio 

Major/Academic Program
Chemical Engineering 

Extracurriculars and other activities
WashU Women's Tennis Team and WashU HOPE (volunteer group through CampusY)

What are your post-graduation plans?
Manufacturing engineer at Procter & Gamble 

What's your favorite memory from your time at WashU?
A lot of memories from my time on the WashU Women’s Tennis Team come to mind; one of which being our spring break trip my junior year. We traveled to Rancho Cucamonga, California, to play against four other teams. It felt like if we didn’t take off in the next hour, the entire trip was going to be canceled as COVID loomed over our heads. We just had a lot of fun competing together, and it was one of those trips where the team felt like a family.  As far as academics go, my favorite memory would be from my Leadership and Team Building class the spring of my junior year. We were tasked with a basic design project where the constraints were essentially nonexistent. Our group decided to go bold and build a replica of Brookings Hall out of sheet cake. With 18 yellow cakes from Aldi and two tubs of chocolate icing, we had a pretty remarkable mini-Brookings to show off. I still have a slow-motion video on my phone of my groupmates and I throwing our partially eaten Brookings into the dumpster behind Lopata afterward. 

What advice do you wish you had known during your first year at WashU?
There is a lot of pressure to know what type of industry you want to go into, what type of research you’re interested in, what your dream job post-graduation is, the list goes on. Something I don’t think I came to accept until my senior year is that you don’t need to barricade yourself into making decisions about what your future will be right this moment. Figure out what you like, figure out what you don’t like. If you can do that, it will be a lot more insightful than trying to mold yourself into an image you’ve barely explored. 

Name a faculty or staff member who played in important role in your WashU experience.
Coach Kelly Stahlhuth and Coach Paige Madara. They have each given me the tools to pursue my passion of playing college tennis while never sacrificing my academics. They’ve helped me navigate my way through tough times and have shaped me into the player, student and overall person I am today. 

Why did you decide to attend WashU?
I visited the campus for the first time during my junior year of high school. I was blown away by the beauty of the campus, coupled with being able to compete at the highest level in athletics and getting a world-class education. Coach Stahlhuth made me feel extremely welcome, and I knew right away that it just felt like home.

What drew you to study engineering? Why did you pick the field of engineering that you did?
Coming into college, I had no idea who or what I wanted to be as a graduate. I just knew that I enjoyed STEM, and maybe I should apply that to engineering. I actually entered as a systems engineering major, because I thought I would appreciate the flexibility to mold the major into what I wanted it to be. I quickly realized that I craved structure and direction, and chemical engineering gave me exactly that. As I moved into higher-level chemical engineering classes, I grew to appreciate and admire the way that chemical engineering was able to describe the way the world operates via mass and energy balances. I never knew how satisfying it would feel for an equation to somehow encapsulate the physical phenomena around us. 

What will you miss most at WashU?
I’m going to miss the people the most at WashU. My support system here is so strong. My teammates on the WashU Women’s Tennis team as well as my ChemE cohorts have molded me into the person I am as I graduate from WashU. There are so many brilliant and inspiring people who have pushed me to become the best version of myself. 

While I’ll still be in St. Louis next year, I’ve struggled coming to terms with the fact that I won’t get to compete with my teammates anymore, and I won’t have the same group to turn to when I’m struggling with an assignment or work project. I just feel like everyone is so supportive and has rallied around me when I needed it the most. It’s hard to find places like that.


Jonathan Richter 

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Hometown
Stamford, Connecticut

Major/Academic Program
Major: Mechanical Engineering; Minor: Aerospace Engineering 

Extracurriculars and other activities:
Washington University Design/Build/Fly; American Institute for Astronautics and Aeronautics; and American Society of Mechanical Engineers

What are your post-graduation plans?
I am currently deciding where I will attend graduate school for a master’s degree in aerospace engineering. I am deciding between Stanford, Georgia Tech and UIUC.

What's your favorite memory from your time at WashU?
It is not a specific memory, rather all the memories of building aircraft in the WashU DBF club. Specifically, building the 60-inch balsa model last year when I was technical president was great.

What was the most difficult course/project/experience you encountered during your studies? How did you overcome the challenge?
Running DBF as technical president (chief engineer, essentially) was by far my largest challenge. I overcame it with the help of those around me, hard work, determination and a bit of luck.

What advice do you wish you had known during your first year at WashU?
Don't stress out about exams and papers as much. Generally, it will all work out in the long run. 

Name a faculty or staff member who played in important role in your WashU experience.
Dr. Martha Hasting. I had the opportunity to be both a student and an AI [Assistant in Instruction] for Dr. Hasting. I took both of her Engineering Mathematics courses (A and B) my sophomore year, and I learned that I like math. Previously, I really didn't see myself as a major fan of math and rather saw it as more of a means to an end. I also learned that I really like teaching/acting as an aide for students. Applying for the AI position in early of my spring sophomore semester was one of, if not the best, decisions I have made at WashU. At large, I have greatly enjoyed my AI sessions over the past two years.

What piece of advice do you have for your fellow graduates?
I do not think I am in a position to offer advice as I am similarly graduating and trying to navigate the world for my next path. If pushed, I would say trust your gut.

Why did you decide to attend WashU?
I chose WashU because I wanted to be at a university that had engineering and a strong liberal arts program.

What is your favorite place on campus?
The WashU DBF Hangar/second floor Olin Library, center section of the second floor pointing west, second full-length table from the window (third row of tables), first seat facing west on the southern side of the table. I spent much of my time doing homework in that seat watching sunsets, snowfalls, rain showers and the fall leaves.

What drew you to study engineering? Why did you pick the field of engineering that you did?
I studied engineering because I wanted to learn how to tackle and possibly solve complex problems. An engineering degree, in my opinion, is less about the exact field of study and more about the mindset of how to solve multilayered difficult problems. They can be as large as societal and as small as that stripped screw.


Robert Slutsky

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Hometown
Fort Lauderdale, Florida

Major/Academic Program
Majors: Computer Science, Mathematical Sciences; Minor: Applied Microeconomics 

Extracurriculars and other activities
Contra Men's Ultimate Frisbee Team

What are your post-graduation plans?
I currently plan on returning to WashU to complete a master’s in computer science. 

What advice do you wish you had known during your first year at WashU?
It’s okay to not be okay, and you’re not going to be able to get through it alone. So, find people you can rely on.

Name a faculty or staff member who played in important role in your WashU experience.
I met with Professor [Ron] Cytron when I visited WashU, and he’s one of the reasons I decided to attend. Throughout my time here, I’ve had the pleasure of working with him, but more importantly he’s been there to help me when I’ve needed it. 

What is your favorite place on campus?
My favorite place on campus is The Gary. When I'm there working out, things are simple and all my problems disappear.

What will you miss most at WashU?
I'll most miss Contra and the people I've become close to.  Being able to live surrounded by all these people is a really special experience. 

What would you change about your WashU experience?
Ideally there would've been no COVID, but we can't change that, so I'll focus on something we change. Bring back Holmes Lounge!

What is your favorite WashU tradition? Why?
My favorite WashU tradition is pickles at Holmes Lounge. I always enjoyed seeing Arthur and running into people in line.


Daniel Sosebee 

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Hometown
Oakland, California

Major/Academic Program
Major in Computer Science 

Extracurriculars and other activities
Captain of Contraband (Men's Ultimate Frisbee Team) and WUSA for Dardick, floor two.

What are your post-graduation plans?
First, visit my sister's family in Israel. Second, work as a software engineer.

Name a faculty or staff member who played in important role in your WashU experience.
My accounting professor Michael McLaughlin was, and continues to be, a huge inspiration to me. Prof. McLaughlin’s classes were special: he consistently brought snacks, humor, storytelling and undue amounts of care and energy to every session. Through his treatment of his WashU students and the thousands of students he educates freely through his non-profit Edspira, Prof. McLaughlin showed me the value in dedicating one’s time, resources and energy fully into the things one cares about, with full transparency, and with courageous disregard for convention.

What drew you to study engineering? Why did you pick the field of engineering that you did?
Engineering spoke to me as a bridge between my drive to make beautiful things and my interest in logic. I started undecided and chose to study CS because of its applications to music production software. Now, I see CS as a means to build things that improve people’s lives at scale.

What will you miss most at WashU?
I will miss my ultimate frisbee team, Contraband. I’ll miss the road trip tournaments, the practices at night in freezing rain, the ridiculous jokes and the countless other traditions that brought special meaning to my time here. 

COVID-19 has had an immense impact on your educational experience. How do you feel about it?
In my view, the most notable impact of COVID is our separation. Spending more time alone taught me to appreciate hugs and all forms of human contact, and the opportunities I get to spend time with people I love in the beautiful complexity of the physical world. I hope to never lose that appreciation.


Jessica Zhang

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Hometown
Morristown, New Jersey 

Major/Academic Program
Biomedical Engineering 

Extracurriculars and other activities
Co-owner of Bears Bikes; Japan Peer Network; and Chopstix 

What are your post-graduation plans?
Applying to medical school in June 2021, but gap year plan is not finalized

What advice do you wish you had known during your first year at WashU?
It’s all about perspective. If there’s a class you’re not looking forward to, instead of complaining about it, try thinking about it from a different perspective. There’s always a bright side to any situation, and sometimes you have to question yourself to find it. 

Name a faculty or staff member who played in important role in your WashU experience.
There were two professors who played an important role in my WashU experience: Allison Creighton and Stephanie Pippin. Professor Creighton taught my first writing class, Technical Writing, and fostered an environment welcoming improvement. I felt I could reach out to her when I needed advice whether it was academic or career-oriented. She was both a teacher and mentor. Professor Pippin taught Writing the Natural World and completely changed the way I view nature. Her boundless enthusiasm was captivating and helped me find interest in pieces I wouldn’t have found alone. Coming into college, I would’ve never thought I’d enjoy writing, but these two professors showed me how writing is more than assignments, but a fantastic method of creative expression.

Why did you decide to attend WashU?
I first learned about WashU through my high school guidance counselor who was an alumna. She and the people I met from WashU were so friendly, and I wanted to be part of that culture. WashU’s excellent engineering school and opportunities at a top medical school drew me to WashU, but ultimately it was the people that made me decide to attend WashU. 

What is your favorite place on campus?
My favorite place on campus is the East End on a sunny day with the fountains running and grabbing lunch with a friend. 

What will you miss most at WashU?
I will miss how friendly everyone at WashU is.

What would you change about your WashU experience?
There were some classes I would have liked to take. I’m not sure how they would’ve fit into my schedules, but I would have liked to try more art classes like blacksmithing and humanity classes like a WGSS [women, gender and sexuality studies] class.


Ann Zhou

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Hometown
Changshu, China 

Major/Academic Program
Computer Science

Extracurriculars and other activities
Women in Computer Science 

What are your post-graduation plans?
I will either work as a software engineer, continue with graduate school or take a gap year. 

What advice do you wish you had known during your first year at WashU?
I would encourage myself to try out more things. 

Name a faculty or staff member who played in important role in your WashU experience. Explain why you picked this person.
Kunal Agrawal and Angelina Lee. They encouraged me to try out research and pursue it further.

What drew you to study engineering? Why did you pick the field of engineering that you did?
To me, computer science is really fun. It is very logical and it allows me to express my creativity.

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