How One Engineering Student Seeks to Change the World Through Environmental Activism and Giving Back
Sofia Brumbaugh’s – a ‘23 Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) PES (Power & Energy Society) Scholarship Plus Initiative and John W. Estey award recipient – interest in engineering bloomed after attending a summer program in high school that introduced her to different disciplines in the field.
“I had a passion for math and excelled in that area, and in high school I found more interest in physics, specifically electromagnetics,” Sofia said. “However, the summer after junior year I enrolled in a summer seminar that really finalized the fact that engineering was the culmination of math and physics and that the area I was most interested in was electrical engineering.”
The seminar happened to be at Santa Clara University, where she is currently completing her senior year, but wasn’t a deciding factor in her enrollment.
“Santa Clara really wasn’t on my radar at first. It wasn’t until I heard about the program through a math teacher in high school and visited that I added it to my application list at the last minute,” she said. “As things progressed, it just so happened that I clicked the most with Santa Clara. It really aligned with my values.”
Alignment with values is very important to Sofia. As she looks ahead to her future career, she already knows she wants to find an organization that is as passionate about sustainability and environmental justice as she is.
“I’m keeping ears and eyes open for companies that have a focus on microgrids and renewable energy that share my values because those are important areas where the power industry is headed,” she explained.
First things first, however. Before Sofia heads into industry, she will complete her master’s through Santa Clara’s 4+1 program and would like to earn a PhD at some point as well.
One of the things that Santa Clara University’s engineering program provided Sofia that she wasn’t expecting but has benefited greatly from was the fact that the faculty includes many female members.
“It’s not something you see a lot in electrical engineering, which tends to be an area with fewer women, but it has been very inspiring, and I think changed the mentality and atmosphere within the department for the better. It’s Incredible to see women in industry and research and where the possibilities are,” she said.
The mentorship Sofia has received at Santa Clara has helped to shape her career focus: power and control systems.
“The mentorship I’ve received has been invaluable,” she said. “Coming in on day one I was placed with my current advisor and the first time I stepped into her office at the first meeting the first thing she said to me was, so what do you want to do? As a freshman that was overwhelming, but we met up quarterly for check-ins and each time she would ask the same question. It was a constant push toward finding what I’m interested in that has made me successful.”
Sofia has made it a point to offer mentorship to others herself by being a part of the Society of Women Engineers on campus, which facilitates outreach programs a few times a year that provide high school and middle school girls with an introduction to different engineering disciplines.
“I’m trying to give back as much as I can because having the perspective of women is extremely important in engineering, and the only way this is going to happen is to reach out to girls and show them this is an option,” she said.
Another “perk” Sofia has been able to take advantage of at Santa Clara is in the Latimer Energy Lab with their new OPAL-RT Real Time Simulator.
“I’ve been doing research on control systems of microgrids and primary and secondary control and through that have been able to work with the OPAL-RT Real Time Simulator,” she said. “If you’re trying to build simulations to model a microgrid it can often take a lot of time to simulate,” she explained. “This models a real-time scale and is great for doing research and data collection and is new technology in the industry, so it’s very exciting to be able to work on.”
As she moves through the power track, Sofia has also been able to take advantage of many of IEEE PES’s offerings related to research and is excited to continue to delve into more as her studies and career progress.
“Receiving the scholarship has allowed me to focus more on research and support myself through the master’s program without having to go right into industry,” she said. “It’s the safety net and support I was looking for, and I’m very grateful to receive it.”
Sofia is also very conscious of the fact that it’s important to have work-life balance, which is one of the reasons she is co-president of the women’s ultimate frisbee team at Santa Clara University.
“Ultimate Frisbee has been the best experiences I’ve had in college. The team is a wonderful group of girls and a lot of us are in STEM,” she said. “It’s a fantastic outlet for people who are working all day and want to destress and get fun exercise. I’ve made friendships for life.”