We were lucky to interview Rensselaer graduate and previous WMP member Viola Wu! Read to discover advice Viola has for incoming students, the impact WMP made on her professionally and her experience studying at RPI.
Share a little bit about yourself (Where are you from, what years did you attend RPI, etc.?)
I was born in China and immigrated to the U.S. when I was twelve. I didn’t speak any English at the beginning and picked it up soon after. I had been living in Queens, NY until I attended RPI in Fall 2011.
What do you like to do for fun?
Ever since I studied abroad in London I fell in love with traveling, I’ve been to 12 countries so far. I am also a big foodie who loves to cook as well. In my spare time, I like to hang out with friends, exercise, and to be outdoors.
What do you do professionally? How did you choose this path? Where does your motivation derive from?
I am currently in the consulting industry working for Accenture, and my client is the federal government. I use agile delivery to enhance and modernize one of the government’s legacy systems. I chose consulting because the unique opportunity to try out different industries roles in a short period. I want to find out what my interest is and what I want to do in life. Consulting is intellectually challenging, you get to work with very smart teammates and constantly think outside of the box to come up with innovative solutions for clients. I am not too sure where exactly my motivation derives from, but my sisters would joke and say middle child syndrome. I have always been motivated to strive for success ever since I was little and maybe it’s because I am a perfectionist.
When selecting colleges, what stood out about RPI?
There were three reasons I chose RPI. First, it was far/close enough from NYC that it gave me the flexibility to go home if I liked. Second, I was one of the four people in the country to receive a $100K scholarship competition and, along with many other scholarships, I was able to attend RPI for free. Third, RPI has an excellent engineering reputation, and I like the faculty to student ratio size. Therefore, I chose RPI due to the proximity to NYC, full ride, and reputation.
How was your RPI experience?
My RPI experience was fantastic! I learned and grew so much during the four years. RPI’s faculty is best, very approachable, always willing to help you and answer any questions you have. RPI does an outstanding job in helping students get industry experience before your graduation, which made finding a full-time job much easier. Even though I went study abroad at University College London in fall of my senior year when most students were interviewing for full-time jobs, I had no trouble finding a job during spring. In fact, I got an experienced position working as the Department Process Manager with nine people reporting to me. It’s all because the opportunities RPI provided. I worked as a Research Assistant during the summer of my freshman year, interned as a Process Engineer in summer of my sophomore year, and interned as a Technical Marketer in summer of my junior year.
What is your favorite memory from RPI?
My favorite memory from RPI is establishing my organization called Society of Asian Scientists and Engineers (SASE) during my junior year. Being the Founder and 1st President of SASE was not an easy task especially launching it in one semester and balancing it academically with my most advanced courses. But I knew it would make a huge difference to the community and students will benefit tremendously, so I moved forward with the support of faculty and peers. SASE’s mission is to provide events and support aimed at improving professional skills, increasing network visibility, and encouraging diversity within the community. I am proud to leave a legacy at RPI and seeing SASE Rensselaer continue to grow.
While at RPI, you were a part of the WMP program. How did WMP help shape your RPI experience?
I served as the Professional Development Director for WMP’s Board during my sophomore year. It was my very first leadership position. I learned so much working along with the Executive Board and Barbara Ruel, WMP’s Director. She has been the best mentor I could ever ask for ever since. From WMP, I learned what it takes to run a professional organization and the key qualities a great leader should possess. I was able to utilize the resources and relationships I built from WMP to help me launch SASE in Rensselaer successfully in the shortest time.
How did WMP influence your professional experience?
WMP’s supportive women community has inspired me to explore my interests and expand my leadership potentials. WMP helped me understand the power of networking and professionalism. It also taught me the importance of communication and collaborative teamwork.
In addition to being a past member of WMP, according to your LinkedIn, you have joined the National Association of Professional Women. Why is it important to you to promote women in the work-space?
I believe it is critical to promote women in the workspace in order to create a better work environment and to produce more positive results. The article by Sheryl Sandberg: Women Are Leaning In-but They Face Pushback correctly described some of the root causes of gender inequality and how companies can start to overcome that by setting goals and measuring progress. While companies are committed to solving the problems, they struggled to put commitment into practice with no gender-bias training; only 25% of managers challenge biased language or behavior when it happens. I can relate to this statement because I always found myself being one of the few women on any team, and usually the only women in color too. To give you a better perspective, when I was working in manufacturing as a Department Manager, only 20% of the managers were female, and I was the only Asian and youngest among all.
Rensselaer now has over 1000 female students in its engineering program! As a prior chemical engineering student at RPI, how do you feel about this?
It’s fantastic to see so many female students going into engineering! I think you all have made an excellent choice of choosing RPI because the faculty and students are amazing. I still remembered my first chemical engineering team was composed of 4 male students and myself. We struggled at first but soon learned how to work together and stayed with the same team throughout our whole chemical engineering curriculum. RPI embraces diversity, and you’ll have the opportunity to learn how to work with people from different background, which is vital for the real world.
Do you have any advice for the female freshman coming into RPI?
My advice for freshmen coming into RPI is don’t be afraid to try something new. Take advantage of all the things RPI has to offer, if the thing you want to do isn’t available, go start it! Don’t be afraid to take risks because college is the perfect time for you to discover what you like and don’t like.