Going the distance: WE@BYU research mentorship spurs student on to higher degrees

It all started in ninth grade. The junior high school students met with their counselor to help pick classes for high school. Like most students, Tenli Waters was unsure of what she wanted to study in college. Math was her favorite subject, so her counselor suggested she take a few introductory engineering classes. Years later, Tenli is now a BYU graduate student on her way to pursuing her PhD in civil engineering.

Prior to arriving at BYU, Tenli declared a major in civil engineering. She qualified for a research mentorship through the WE@BYU: Women in Engineering and Technology program and was invited to work in a lab with Dr. Spencer Guthrie.

“I didn’t have a job lined up at BYU yet, and it seemed like a great opportunity, so I decided to accept,” Tenli explained.

The WE@BYU Research Mentorship Program gives first- and second-year engineering and technology women students the opportunity to be mentored by a faculty member in a laboratory setting. In the program, students have a hands-on experience, work to solve real research problems and learn more about new technologies in their field of study.

Tenli was part of the mentorship program every year as an undergraduate. Throughout her time in the program she has worked nearly 1,800 hours as a research assistant, been a teaching assistant multiple times, published three technical papers, given presentations at international conferences, and received three Office of Research and Creative Activities (ORCA) undergraduate research grants.

 It is hard to say how Tenli’s academic path would be different had she not joined the research mentorship program, but it is clear that it helped immensely.

“I’m grateful every day for the opportunities the mentorship program gave me,” she said. “I probably wouldn’t be getting a master’s degree in civil engineering if it wasn’t for the mentorship program.”

For Tenli, working in the lab with Dr. Guthrie helped her to find a passion for materials and pavements engineering. She said that these were areas of civil engineering that she never expected to enjoy, but because of the program, her mind was changed.

Tenli is finishing up her master’s degree in civil engineering and will begin work on her PhD in the fall. She has no doubt that the WE@BYU Research Mentorship program has been invaluable to her and her education. There were a few road blocks along the way with difficult classes, but with the help of her mentor and other students, she pushed through.

“The mentorship helped me stay in the engineering college by showing me that the math classes and the introductory classes aren’t the only things involved in engineering,” she said. “By working on research and learning from Dr. Guthrie, I was able to see real-world problems and how they are solved with engineering. The program helped me see the big picture and that getting through those difficult classes was worth it.”

For more information on the WE@BYU Research Mentorship program, or to apply, please visit the WE@BYU website

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