Fostering a sense of community
Kayla Huang, president of MatSE's student organization Materials Advantage, pens a blog detailing how the tight-knit group has enhanced her Illini journey, providing her unique opportunities and a wonderful sense of community.
Written by Kayla Huang
Hi! My name is Kayla Huang, and I am an incoming senior (class of 2024) in Materials Science and Engineering at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.
Ahead of my first semester at Illinois, I remember feeling a mixture of excitement and nervousness. I was excited to live in a different state — I’m originally from Maryland — meet lots of people and experience college in general. However, it was also extremely nerve-wracking as my freshman year kicked off in the fall of 2020.
At that time, there were still lots of uncertainties about the pandemic, which piled onto the general first-year anxieties of being far away from home and not knowing anyone.
During my first semester at Illinois, I took ENG 100, which is a required engineering orientation class taught by upperclassmen in your major. These student teachers are called ELAs, or Engineering Learning Assistants.
This class was my first introduction to the MatSE community, and it was here that I learned of the MatSE student organization Material Advantage, or MA, for short. MA is one of two MatSE student organizations on campus — the other is Keramos.
Throughout the semester, MA hosts social, professional and service events for students who are studying or are interested in Materials Science and Engineering. These events include:
- General meetings: Offers members free pizza, time to catch up with other MatSEs and hear about upcoming events
- Mentorship Program: Pairs freshmen with upperclassmen to help the newest class of MatSEs find their footing in the major
- Curtis Apple Orchard: A trip in the fall to pick apples with the MA and Keramos crews, and something I look forward to every year
- Concentration panel: Seniors share their firsthand experiences about classes, internships and careers to shed light on the various paths and classes you can take in the major — from ceramics, biomaterials, electronic materials, polymers, and even energy and sustainability
- Destination Technology: We trek over to a Peoria, Illl.school to teach kids about various STEM topics
- Engineering Open House: The nation’s largest student-run STEM fair with more than 200 exhibits inviting elementary visitors to watch engineering demonstrations and participate in hands-on activities. Held in the spring semester, Material Advantage provides six booths every year
- And much more!
My first experience with MA was being part of its Fall Mentorship Program during my first semester. This was a great way to meet many upperclassmen, who were all very quick to give advice or lend a helping hand.
Throughout the rest of the year, I consistently looked forward to MA events. Even though COVID had shut down a lot of campus activities, MA still found ways to safely bring the community together — be it virtual games, outdoor hang outs and more.
I had such a great time being a part of MA my freshmen year that I decided to run for treasurer the following year.
Being treasurer my sophomore year allowed me to become even more immersed in the MatSE community. I got to plan events, learn the ins and outs of running an organization and attend conferences while representing UIUC.
This past year, I was vice president, and I ran the Fall Mentorship Program. This was definitely a full-circle moment for me. It seems like just yesterday, I was a freshman myself, looking up to the upperclassmen, and now here I was, not only mentoring, but being the one creating spaces where new students could connect with the MatSE community.
I had a lot of fun meeting the new freshmen and organizing various events. If you’re an incoming freshman, definitely join MA’s Fall Mentorship Program! Last year, we played capture the flag, laser tag and much more.
Now, I am the president of MA for the 2023-24 school year. I’m extremely excited to continue working with other MatSEs to put on fun events for everyone.
The coolest part of being a MatSE student is probably the community we have at Illinois. I’ve made so many close friends, and I have had a great college experience so far.
The faculty are also amazing. My MatSE professors are inspiring and supportive, and their genuine passion for MatSE and their students is apparent both in and out of the classroom.
Additionally, our department organizes so many events just for MatSEs — from a welcome picnic at the beginning of the school, to a holiday open house before the fall semester’s finals and much more.
Welcome Class of 2027
If you’re an incoming freshman, a great way to become involved on campus is joining MA.
You can connect with MA right now through our Instagram (@materialadvantageuiuc), where we post pictures from our events, highlights of our members and various announcements.
We will also be visiting your MSE 182: Introduction to Materials Science and Engineering class sometime during the beginning of the fall semester to pass along information on MA’s upcoming events.
We have a lot of fun things planned for the incoming year! Welcome class of 2027!
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This story was published June 8, 2023.