Outstanding graduates: Toby Utterback, class of 2023

Toby Utterback, who will graduate with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering, says her art and biology studies have made her a stronger engineer

Danielle Lacey 
Utterback built upon her design studies to become a better engineer.
Utterback built upon her design studies to become a better engineer.

Toby Utterback didn’t know what she wanted to study when she came to Washington University in St. Louis.

“I had no idea what engineering really was, to be honest,” Utterback said. “I don't have any engineers in my family. I just knew that I wanted to make things, I'm good at designing and I can handle a technical workload.”

This May, Utterback will graduate with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering and minors in biology and design. The freedom to explore different majors and schools is what drew Utterback to WashU in the first place.

“Every other school I looked at didn't have options to focus on different majors within different colleges,” Utterback said. “I knew I wanted to be someplace where I could major in one thing but then major or minor in something completely different in another college.”

Utterback said her design studies at the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts has helped her become a better engineer. Before college, Utterback focused mostly on 2D design such as drawing and painting. At WashU, Utterback had the opportunity to take courses that taught her to use laser cutters and 3D printers.

“In engineering, we do some practical application of builds but it's a lot more theoretical,” Utterback said. “I'm grateful for the classes I've taken in the art school because they helped me to think more about how something is going to be constructed and not just the math behind it.”

Utterback said she also has a love for medicine and medical devices, hence why she pursued WashU’s premed curriculum along with her engineering and design studies. Through that program, she volunteered at Barnes Jewish Hospital and later observed emergency medical doctors through “MedPrep II: The Shadowing Experience,” a course offered through the Department of Biology in Arts & Sciences.

Utterback also performed research in the lab of Phil Bayly, chair of the Department of Mechanical Engineering & Materials Science and Lee Hunter Distinguished Professor, where she studied the behavior of cilia and flagella.

Utterback will remain in St. Louis to start her new job as an engineer with Boeing Phantom Works this summer.

“I'm very excited to work at Boeing,” Utterback said. “Having so many majors and minors has opened doors for me. If I decide I want a change in a couple years, I'll be able to do that with my background.”

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