by Juliana Palomino
“When I graduate, I’m going to be prepared.”
Isn’t that the goal of every college student—to be able to say those words confidently? For University of Kentucky senior Hannah Goldstein, that confidence is a reality. As a materials engineering major, Hannah sees involvement in student organizations as the catalyst for her preparation and growth.
Hannah serves as president of Material Advantage, a national organization for materials engineering undergraduate students. She became involved during her freshman year, attracted by its many opportunities: automatic membership to several nationwide professional organizations, tours of local engineering industries and the chance to volunteer at educational events such as the College of Engineering’s annual E-Day.
Hannah’s biggest involvement with Material Advantage, however, has been with the Bladesmithing team, a student organization within Material Advantage that does exactly what it sounds like— make swords.
Among the many student organizations she heard about during her freshman year, the Bladesmithing team stood out with its promise of teaching students to forge, weld and make a sword in preparation for an annual national convention. When she arrived for her first meeting, however, disillusionment struck.
It was the club’s first year in existence, and as Hannah laughs, “Nobody knew what they were doing. We maybe made a sword, but I don’t think that it even had a handle.”
The following year, the seniors in charge of the club graduated, leaving Hannah as president with sparse information and no veteran students. With little to guide her, Hannah used her engineering problem-solving skills and turned to the best tool she knew.
“I used a lot of Google,” she admits.
From learning how to purchase steel to maneuvering logistical roadblocks such as broken forges, Hannah developed strong crisis and project management skills. Her team made headway in preparing a sword to present at the national conference during the spring of Hannah’s junior year.
They completed the sword on time, but she realized at the last moment they also needed to submit a metallography report. Turning to desperate measures, she sent out a mass email to a large group of engineering students and ended up with a workforce of almost entirely freshmen without any lab experience.
She remembers feeling extremely concerned at first, but she ended up thriving. She supervised the freshmen, teaching them how to mount slides on a microscope and look at steel samples. Many students, seeing steel magnified for the first time, shared Hannah's fascination.
“I loved that not only did I get the work done, but I also got to teach people,” she says.
The whirlwind experience culminated in victory. Her group completed the project, and Hannah traveled to San Diego to represent her team and its sword at a national conference.
Through her ongoing involvement, Hannah has developed strong communication and teaching skills she is already putting to good use. Over the course of two undergraduate internships, she has presented to large teams of experienced engineers.
“Because I had so much experience leading bladesmithing and working with Material Advantage, it felt familiar, and it didn’t worry me,” Hannah remembers.
Where will Hannah be taking all of these skills after graduation? This fall she will begin medical school at the University of Cincinnati.
“Being a doctor will take my engineering skills and apply them to people’s bodies and illnesses. My engineering education has prepared me really well; engineering gives you a level of problem-solving that nothing else does.”
From forging swords to training new students to speaking at national conferences, Hannah’s involvement has given her an invaluable sense of confidence as she approaches life after graduation. She has written a dozen essays on how bladesmithing has prepared her for medical school, and she firmly believes any student organization will prepare students for the future.
“When you get to a job, they will show you the machine and which buttons to press. The point of school is to prepare you in what to do if a button doesn’t work—how you’re going to fix it and how you’re going to convince others that your solution is the correct one. Because of my student involvement, I feel enormously prepared in that way.”