As Jillian Miles reminisces about her college applica- tion process, she mentions one of her visits to campus, recalling, “I knew with the Science and Engineering Hall opening soon, I would have a lot of opportunities in STEM [science, technology, engineering, and math].”
Jillian certainly has had a number of opportunities at SEAS, but she’s done her part, too, and has wisely made the most of them.
Now a senior majoring in systems engineering, Jillian initially wasn’t sure what she wanted to study at SEAS.
During an introduction to engineering course her first year, she was given a simple optimization problem to solve, and as it turned out, it also solved the question of a major for her. “I saw what they were doing, and they showed us how you can apply this to hundreds of fields,” she remembers. “It felt to me so expansive, and like a tool kit I could apply to any field I wanted to go into.”
Jillian declared her major and began to soar. At the end of her freshman year, she was selected as a Clark Engineering Scholar, a prestigious honor for a SEAS undergraduate.
“I remember our first banquet as a freshman and listening to the seniors and wondering why I was in the program,” she says quietly. “With every event in the program— alumni speakers, leadership boot camps, etc.—it’s built up my confidence to a point where I know that as a senior, I’m capable of doing amazing things in my future, too. Without the program I don’t think I would have found that confidence in myself.”
One thing often leads to another in life, and that was the case for Jillian with the Clark Scholars Program. The program requires the students to participate in a study abroad, so Jillian chose to study at the University of Cape Town in South Africa. She had two short-term homestays while there, and they made quite an impression on her.
Speaking of the homestays, she remarks, “One was in a township, so I saw the remnants of apartheid and the unique problems that they face now because of it. That’s a lesson I won’t forget. You see a whole other world that is different from your own, but then you start talking to people and you start to realize how similar your needs and desires are.”
As her study abroad wound down, one thing led to another again, and she found herself presented with the opportunity to do research for the summer in Kampala, Uganda. Dr. Murray Snyder, the director of the Clark Scholars Program, put her in touch with a faculty member from the Engineering Management and Systems Engineering department, Dr. Erica Gralla. Dr. Gralla leads a research project in Kampala that monitors changes in Ugandan agricultural market systems for the U.S. Agency for International Development. She interviewed Jillian over Skype and selected her to help with research for the summer. The only “obstacle” for Jillian was how to tell her parents.
“I thought, ‘My parents are gonna kill me if I get back from Cape Town for two weeks and turn around and go to Uganda, but I can’t pass up this opportunity,’” Jillian says with a laugh. “One thing I love about GW is the focus on study abroad, so why wouldn’t I do this?”
Back at GW in the fall, Jillian resumed her classes and usual activities, which include the SEAS Student Peer Advisory Network and the GW ballet group, Balance. “I love Balance,” she states. “It was the first organization I joined at GW, and it’s been my release throughout college.”
Jillian is aware of the unique combination of activities and experiences that have comprised her college years and is grateful to GW and SEAS for the opportunities she has had.
“GW, and especially SEAS, has been such a catering environment,” she concludes. “When I was a GW tour guide, the thing I would say at the end [of each tour] was, ‘I’ve told you a lot about my experiences, but if you go up and ask any other student how SEAS has been an enabling environment to them, they will each have their own unique story on how SEAS has been integral to their lives.’ It’s amazing that almost every kid who walks through here has a similar list of how much they’ve been given by the school.”