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My Freshman Year of College in COVID-19

Spencer Vanderbilt
By Spencer Vanderbilt Kansas State University, SME Member Since 2020

FLASHBACK TO MARCH 2020. I remember watching Kansas Governor Laura Kelly announce the closure of Kansas Schools due to COVID-19. I knew this would alter my plans to attend Kansas State University in the fall in a formal manner. Initially, I was concerned there would be no students in Manhattan, Kan., and classes would be all virtual from home. Thankfully, Kansas State allowed students to live on campus, but the majority of classes would remain virtual. As I was about to endure the biggest transition of my life, from home to college, the world around me was also transitioning faster than it ever has before.

Once classes began in the fall, I was offered one in-person class, with the remainder offered online. Thankfully, the one in-person class offered was an “Intro to Biomedical Engineering.” This class captured my attention, covering topics such as medical imaging techniques, telemedicine solutions and the future of medical technology in hospitals. I had declared biomedical engineering as my major in September 2020, but with COVID, topics on biomedical engineering seemed much more relevant.

Classes I took in the online format were “Chemistry 1,” “Calculus 1” and “Macroeconomics 1.” I thoroughly enjoyed learning chemistry, calculus and macroeconomics; however, chemistry and calculus are extremely difficult to comprehend in a virtual format. Topics such as integration, chemical equilibrium and electrochemistry almost require a traditional classroom setting for students to fully absorb this information. That being said, being able to roll out of bed and hop on a Zoom lecture has been very convenient. Kansas State University has announced that classes in the fall of 2021 will be almost all in-person, which I am looking forward to very much.

As I am writing this, I am in my spring semester here at Kansas State where I am taking “Calculus 2,” “Chemistry 2,” “Engineering Physics” and “Intro to Electrical Engineering.” Each of these topics contain information that I enjoy learning about; however, the impact of COVID-19 still exists and all courses are on Zoom. As I progress further in my undergraduate study in virtual courses, the toll of not being in person seems to be growing exponentially. Kansas State canceled spring break due to the fear of spreading COVID-19, which has consequently left students feeling academically burnt out during these final weeks of the semester.

COVID-19 has also impacted the traditional social scene of college, as you can imagine. I joined Sigma Alpha Epsilon at Kansas State in the fall of 2020, and some of our largest events, such as philanthropies, family weekends and social events, were canceled due to COVID. Despite these impacts, I have made great connections with people both currently in college and among recent graduates in the engineering field. At the end of the fall semester, I was able to run for the academic warden executive position, and I won. In this role, I have been calculating the chapter’s GPA every week and reporting these numbers during weekly meetings. Being a part of Sigma Alpha Epsilon and obtaining an executive position has really boosted my college experience as well as expanded my leadership skills in a unique way, despite the ongoing pandemic.

I cannot express enough how grateful I am to have received this scholarship from the SME Education Foundation. The impact is greater than I can express in words. SME’s generosity has had a major impact on my life and has allowed me to focus more on academics and less on the financial side of college. I would like to extend a thank you to the scholarship committee at SME for working with me and being so flexible during the application and interview process, as it was held during the peak of complications from the pandemic.

My freshman year has been wildly different than I ever would have predicted. I am thrilled to be learning about biomedical engineering topics despite the online format. I believe in my post-graduate career, a biomedical engineering degree will be extremely applicable after the pandemic is over. I look forward to being back in a traditional college format in the fall, where I can truly engage in topics opposed to learning via online lectures. I would like to once extend again a sincere thank you to SME for this wonderful opportunity.

Learn More About Scholarships

SME Announces 2021 Award of Merit Honorees

SME announced that Hwa-Soo Lee, PhD, LSME, CMfgE, and Matthew Clegg are its 2021 SME Award of Merit recipients. Lee is a professor specializing in manufacturing at Nihon University in Tokyo. Clegg is a marine equipment designer for Manson Construction Co. in Seattle.

2021 SME Award of Merit recipients Hwa-Soo Lee, PhD, LSME, CMfgE, is a professor specializing in manufacturing at Nihon University in Tokyo, and Matthew Clegg is a marine equipment designer for Manson Construction Co. in Seattle.

Lee was selected for his valued contributions to SME Japan Chapter 180, where he functions as the certification officer. His ongoing efforts have led to more than 1,700 applicants successfully achieving the organization’s Certified Manufacturing Engineer (CMfgE) and Certified Manufacturing Technologist (CMfgT) designations between 1994 and 2020.

Clegg is being recognized for his work as the chair of SME Seattle Chapter 39. While in the position, he established a goal for the chapter to regain its platinum chapter status, which requires success in the categories of effective communication, interaction with local manufacturing, leadership development and development of best practices.

After working in industry as a machine tool engineer for Amada Co., Lee joined academia at Sophia University, one of the top-three private research universities in Japan, and at Nihon University. During his career, he has contributed extensively to research on machine tool vibration. He also has invested significantly in mentoring students and emerging engineers in the manufacturing industry.

Clegg, a graduate of Central Washington University with degrees in industrial engineering and music performance, has an extensive background that includes SolidWorks certification, additive manufacturing, laser scanning, reverse engineering, foundry, machining and marine design. As chair of SME Seattle Chapter 39, he worked with local colleges to strengthen their engineering programs, while supporting five SME student chapters and growing his professional SME chapter into one of the largest in the U.S.

SME’s Award of Merit has, since 1958, recognized exceptional accomplishments from among its membership. To nominate an outstanding SME member by the Aug. 1 deadline, visit for eligibility requirements and nominating details.

SME Selects Manufacturing Leaders for 2021 International Honor Awards

SME has selected its 2021 International Honor Award recipients. These leaders, from industry and academia, are recognized for their contributions to manufacturing, research, education, scientific publications and service to SME.

2021 International Honor Award winners (from top, L to R): Shaw Feng, NIST; Bruce MacKender, SME; Ralph Resnick, C3Consulting; Kornel Ehmann, Northwestern University; Thomas Kurfess, ORNL; Tony Schmitz, University of Tennessee, Knoxville and ORNL; and Steven Liang, Georgia Tech.

For more than six decades, SME’s International Honor Awards have identified professionals whose bodies of work have led to critical breakthroughs and advancements in manufacturing technologies, processes and education, and have honored members for their volunteerism.

The 2021 International Honor Award winners are:

  • Eli Whitney Productivity Award—Shaw C. Feng, PhD, National Institute of Standards and Technology, Gaithersburg, Md.;
  • Joseph A. Siegel Service Award—Bruce G. MacKender, LSME, SME (retired), Oregon City, Ore.;
  • Donald C. Burnham Manufacturing Management Award—Ralph L. Resnick, FSME, C3Consulting, Latrobe, Pa.;
  • SME Frederick W. Taylor Research Medal—Kornel F. Ehmann, PhD, FSME, Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois;
  • SME Albert M. Sargent Progress Award—Thomas R. Kurfess, PhD, FSME, NAE, PE, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Knoxville, Tenn.;
  • SME Education Award—Tony L. Schmitz, PhD, FSME, University of Tennessee, Knoxville; Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Knoxville, Tenn.; and
  • SME Gold Medal—Steven Y. Liang, PhD, FSME, Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta.

SME is currently accepting nominations for the 2022 International Honor Awards. The submission deadline is Aug. 1. Award and nomination information is available at

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