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, but my language proficiency grew fairly quickly. I lived in Queens, NY until I enrolled at 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 traveled to 12 countries so far! I am also a big foodie and love to cook. In my spare time, I like to hang out with friends, exercise, and 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 it allows me to try out different industry roles in a short period which is a unique opportunity. Consulting is intellectually challenging. It affords you the opportunity to work with very smart teammates and constantly think outside of the box to come up with innovative client solutions. I am not too sure where exactly my motivation derives from, but my sisters joke and say [I have] middle child syndrome. I have always been motivated to strive for success ever since I was little. 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 close to NYC which gave me the flexibility to go home if I wanted. Second, I was one of the four people in the country to receive a $100K scholarship competition and with my 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, my full ride, and the Institute’s 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 graduation, which personally made finding a full-time job much easier. Even though I studied abroad at University College London during the fall semester of my senior year when most students were interviewing for full-time jobs, I had no trouble finding a job when I returned in the spring. In fact, I landed a 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 summer Research Assistant following my freshman year, interned as a Process Engineer the summer after my sophomore year, and served as a Technical Marketer the summer following my junior year.
What is your favorite memory from RPI?
My favorite memory from RPI is establishing an 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 since I launched and balanced it with my most advanced courses in one semester. But I knew it would make a huge difference to the community and students would benefit tremendously, so I moved forward with the support of the faculty and my peers. SASE’s mission is to provide events and support aimed at improving professional skills, increasing network visibility, and encouraging diversity. I am proud to have left a legacy at RPI and getting to see 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. Ms. Ruel continues to serve as a mentor to me, even now. 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 relationshipsI built from WMP to help me and my peers to successfully launch SASE Rensselaer in a short amount of 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 workplace to create a better work environment that yields positive results. The article by Sheryl Sandberg: Women Are Leaning In-but They Face Pushback correctly describes 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 struggle to put commitment into practice with training to address gender-bias. In fact, 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 often 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 employee.
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 how my first Chemical Engineering team was composed of four male students and myself. We struggled at first but soon learned how to work together and we remained a 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.