Engineering at Nebraska, Spring 2009
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Being Ericka

By J.S. Engebretson

It's late May, after the end of E-Week, and senior Ericka Amborn can finally take a deep breath and enjoy life at a walk again. The mechanical engineering major from Rapid City, S.D., is graduated this spring after four years and a resume loaded with leadership opportunities and cocurricular activities.

However, to understand where Amborn is going, it's necessary to recap where she's been at Nebraska Engineering.

It was the encouragement of a female high school physics teacher and a "love for calculating things" that initially led Amborn to UNL and an engineering major. Amborn's teacher, whose daughter was an engineer, encouraged her students to attend women in engineering days at a local university and offered several engineering projects.

Amborn debated between physics and engineering, initially began studies in bio systems engineering, then later switched to mechanical engineering.

A "very involved" student in high school, Amborn came to UNL and was initially more concerned about college and her coursework than outside activities.

"At first, I was really concerned about keeping up so I was a little hesitant about participating in things," she said.

That philosophy soon changed, beginning with the university's ballroom dance club. A friend in graduate school became her partner and while she most likely will never be a competitive dancer, the club stoked her cocurricular fires again. Soon she was serving as vice president and planning dances.

Along with taking heavy course loads each year, Amborn began "sampling" different activities and organizations. Club lacrosse, Engineering Student Advisory Board, ASME, peer mentoring, IAESTE, Society of Women Engineers - all enabled her to expand her leadership skills and have fun.

Perhaps her biggest challenge was serving as chair of E-week this year. The week's events include activities each day for current students, as well as the public open house on Friday, which generally attracts about 500 guests.

"Getting people interested in helping and motivating others to get excited was definitely hard," she said.

As E-Week 2009 chair, one of Amborn's (left) duties was being on the judging panel for the first-ever Mr. Engineer competition at UNL.

Nebraska Engineering encourages students to study and travel abroad, and Amborn took advantage of that opportunity as well. She spent 10 weeks last summer through Engineering Mechanics' dual degree program in France. She and two other UNL students worked on a "green" research project; Amborn's in particular focused on testing material properties of recycled tire rubber composites.

The opportunity for research was definitely a plus for Amborn in her college choice. She has been involved in the university's UCARE program, which enables undergraduate students to work on research projects with faculty. She has been working with Dr. Joseph Turner in Engineering Mechanics to characterize pig cartilage samples at the micro/nano level. The research may someday help develop a more natural replacement cartilage for people.

Amborn's tendency for ultra-organization is still in full swing, and she joked she was "already checking out planners for next year."

She'll need that planner, especially following her decision in April to accept a UNL Chancellor's Fellowship for graduate study. She will work with Dr. Shane Farritor in mechanical engineering on in vivo robots for surgery.

Ironically, one of her new goals is to learn to golf. "I really want to maintain a life outside of research and engineering too, " she said.