Skip to content

Learning the True Value of Adaptability

Rachel L. Linder University of Louisville SME Member Since 2019
By Rachel L. Linder University of Louisville, SME Member Since 2019

I stepped onto campus last August as a freshman engineering student at the University of Louisville, Louisville, Ky. As eager and worried as I was, the next chapter in my education and young adult life was beginning to unfold. Somehow my first two semesters flew by right before my eyes, even though some strenuous days and restless nights seemed to never end.

Rachel Linder, far right, is pictured with her family prior to accepting her $40,000 SME Education Foundation Family Scholarship during SME’s 2019 International Awards Gala in Detroit. This annual scholarship is awarded to students with at least one parent or grandparent who has been an SME member in good standing for the last two years. Rachel’s father, Charles Linder, CMfgE (far left), has been an SME member since 1996.

My first semester was a monumental adjustment after living in the same town my whole life. I began to learn significantly more about myself and came in with the intention of studying bioengineering. My long-term ambitions have not changed; however, my path to getting there has shifted slightly. Midway through my first semester, I began to gain more interest in the educational track of mechanical engineering. I noticed that I am more enticed by hands-on physical mechanics rather than with molecular laboratory work, which is one of the prime differences that set mechanical and bioengineering apart. I still carry the goal to work closely with the medical industry, but I am excited about my new direction. I believe I will be more connected to manufacturing in my future career with a foundation in mechanical engineering, which was a strong reason to make the shift.

After struggling with finding a routine that worked well for me in my first semester, I began to find my niche once I became more involved with Speed School. In my second semester, I made more connections by signing up to be a mentee in the student council program, and I recently became the secretary of our Society of Women Engineers’ student chapter. I began paying closer attention to what study environments and habits better suited my needs, and I found myself enjoying learning like I never had before. All seemed smooth and well at the beginning of March, until COVID-19 made its appearance.

I was on my spring break at the time when I suddenly received an uproar of notifications saying that I had two weeks to move out of my Louisville campus dorm. I have been fortunate to not be severely affected by the pandemic, but it was upsetting to leave my second home so soon with the unknown of the remaining semester. As difficult as it was to learn distantly, I feel it has enabled me to expand skills that I might not have exercised without these circumstances.

I can narrow down my freshman year to one word—adaptability. Looking back 10 years from now, I probably will not remember the exact names of every conic section graph, but I will remember, and keep in practice, the adaptability and mental strength it takes to trudge through uncertain times. The setbacks from the COVID-19 outbreak have given me the opportunity to better learn the true value of adapting.

Rachel Linder accepting her scholarship award from SME Education Foundation Vice President Rob Luce (far left), and Andrew Stucker, 2018 SME Eduation Foundation Scholarship winner, during SME’s 2019 International Awards Gala.

And is that not the essence of engineering? I understand more and more every day that engineering is no easy ride. Failure and setbacks are inevitable, and they are not something to fear. At times I find myself so fearful of being unsuccessful that I do not give myself the chance to succeed. Recently, I have had to remind myself that failure allows engineers to step back, rework the problem, innovate better, persevere and adapt.

Now more than ever, our society is turning to manufacturers with higher and more expedient demands. It has been a reminder to me that we rely on efficient manufacturing more than we recognize in our daily lives. I am very proud that even the engineering team at the University of Louisville is manufacturing face shields for use at hospitals.

After completing my freshman year, I can say with confidence that I am fully committed and thrilled to become a mechanical engineer. In a time when our world is in overwhelming need of help, I want to be there to rise to the challenge. I give much thanks to the SME Education Foundation, my family and close friends who believe in my ability to make an impact. Though there may not be much I can do now as a student, I am certain that I am on the path to doing so. Overall, I have learned from my freshman-year experience that my strengthened adaptability will carry me far through my future career in both engineering and manufacturing.

The SME Education Foundation will begin accepting scholarship applications on Nov. 1. To apply, register at

SME’s Composites Manufacturing Tech Group Recognizes Leaders in Aerospace and Defense Manufacturing

An industry leader and two prominent composites manufacturing companies were recently recognized with SME’s annual Composites Manufacturing Awards. Composites combine different materials that work together to form stronger, lighter or more durable new materials. It remains an important component of advanced aerospace manufacturing.

2020 J.H. “Jud” Hall Composites Manufacturing Award winner Kurtis Willden, technical fellow,
The Boeing Co.

Kurtis Willden, technical fellow, The Boeing Co., Seattle, is the recipient of the 2020 J.H. “Jud” Hall Composites Manufacturing Award. He was recognized for his successes in the development and implementation of processes and equipment for large-composite aerospace structures. Willden is a highly skilled engineer and innovator whose ideas are used in production, saving tens of millions of dollars annually and millions of dollars in nonrecurring cost avoidance in the last 10 years at Boeing.

Aligned Vision, Chelmsford, Mass., received the 2020 Excellence in Composites Manufacturing Award (Small Company) for its instrumental achievements in bringing digital technologies to the composites industry. The company’s technologies simultaneously accelerate fabrication rates and raise component quality, while generating as-built information that lets fabricators know how well the finished component matches the digital design. Aligned Vision uses 3D-laser projection for guidance of “light templates” in the composite manufacturing layup process, replacing physical Mylar or fiberglass templates and reducing layup time by a reported 85 percent.

The Boeing Co. received the 2020 Excellence in Composites Manufacturing Award (Large Company) for innovative tooling and manufacture of its 777X aircraft, which incorporates the longest single-piece composite wing spar ever built. Thanks, in part, to the composite wing, the Boeing 777X can carry more people more efficiently and in exceptional comfort. The composite wing spar is the latest milestone in a decade of development, design and build of this innovative airplane family and its production system.

These awards, traditionally given at SME’s annual AeroDef Manufacturing event, are being presented independently in 2020. Complete details are available at

  • View All Articles
  • Connect With Us

Webinars, White Papers and More!

SME's Manufacturing Resource Center keeps you updated on all of the latest industry trends and information. Access unlimited FREE webinars, white papers, eBooks, case studies and reports now!