When Jolie McLane’s parents moved to the Central Valley her senior year of high school, she stayed behind in Southern California and endured their teasing about attending UC Merced so they could have her close by again. She had other plans for her engineering education.
Then she attended Bobcat Day in April 2006 and, in her words, “fell in love.”
“Everything was so new,” she said, “And I talked with professors about their research and heard from all these freshmen that they were already working for professors on research projects. It was amazing to me that such an opportunity could be available.”
She submitted her statement of intent to register that day and entered UC Merced in Fall 2006 as an undeclared engineering major - something you can’t do at just any school. UC Merced’s
School of Engineeringlets students come in, explore options and get their footing before deciding on a specialty. That worked out well for McLane.
“I’ve always been interested in the human body, health and nutrition,” she said. “I decided on bioengineering during my sophomore year.”
By that time, she’d already gotten some of the research experience that won her over to the newest UC campus. She worked as an assistant for renowned physics professor
Raymond Chiao, helping prepare for experiments searching for evidence of gravitational wave radiation.
“It really helped me understand how a lab environment works,” McLane said. “I went through the steps of setup and planning that you have to do with any experiment.”
McLane said now that she’s in upper-division classes, she’s noticed even more hands-on experience has become part of her coursework.
“In my bioengineering class this semester, we cultured cancer cells,” she said. “You get a much more in-depth view at this level.”
But she’s not counting on coursework alone to prepare for her future - either entering the workforce or pursuing a graduate degree in biomedical engineering after she graduates from UC Merced in 2010.
McLane is heavily involved with student organizations on campus, especially the Science and Engineering Association, which serves as UC Merced’s chapter of the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers. Although McLane is not Hispanic herself, she deeply appreciates the chance to get involved and benefit from the organization, and she puts in her share of work.
“We’re getting ready for the SHPE Region 1 Conference being held at UC Merced in March 2009,” she said. “We definitely have our work cut out for us.”
She also participates in the National Society of Black Engineers and has begun to talk with the Hispanic Engineer National Achievement Awards Corporation about internships for the summer of 2009.
McLane appreciates how, in the small-school environment of UC Merced, she hasn’t had to leave her non-engineering interests behind. She’s participated previously in a hip-hop dance troupe, INTRO, and this year started her own competitive jazz dance team. They’ve already performed at an athletics rally and Family Weekend on campus and the Merced Veterans Day parade. Next year, she said, they’ll be ready to compete. And she loves how her dance commitments keep her busy student life balanced.
“As a leader of the team, I have to be a role model - be there early and ready to go, and not miss a practice,” she said. “So I have to schedule it into my day. It’s a lot more work than just being a member, but it helps me distress and keep up my health.”
When you have so many options, it’s always good to have a passion that keeps you strong, focused and balanced.