UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN River Falls
Name: Alexus Heldt
Company: Process and Development Engineer, Vascular Solutions, Inc.
Hometown: Watertown, Minn.
Major: Agricultural Engineering Technology
"People have said, 'You're a girl!' You can't be an engineer!'" she says. "But I feel like I'm proving that I can."
When Alexus arrived at UW-River Falls three years ago, she discovered she was outnumbered.
"There were maybe five of us [females] in my agricultural engineering classes. We were outnumbered ten to one. The landscaping is changing though and we're proving it," she says, marveling at the quick changes happening before her eyes. "The program here at River Falls is really growing. So many doors are being opened. Now half my classes are female and more and more are in the incoming classes."
It's not just her classes that are male-dominated, but also her field. Alexus is an agricultural engineering technology major from Watertown, Minn., and will be heading to Vascular Solutions, Inc., Maple Grove, Minn., as a process and development engineer after graduation. She interned at the same company last summer and will be working on medical devices.
"During my internship, there were quite a few female engineers and it was really inspiring, but overall it's a male-dominated field," she explains.
Regardless of the landscape of her field, Alexus feels extremely prepared for the road ahead. She came to UW-River Falls already having earned college credit and will be completing her degree in just three years.
"It's been a huge process through three years. I always did the mock interviews on campus and had Career Services look at my resume. I attended professional seminars and conferences that helped build networking skills and interviewing skills. I took classes like public speaking. Even in my classes, we've talked about interview skills. Each year I have built off something new. It's kind of incredible that there has been so much to take advantage of here on campus," she says.
"When I came in as a freshman, I thought I was going to be a teacher. That's what I saw myself doing. Then I got more involved in business and economics and switched. I found my passion here. It has morphed and changed," Alexus explains. "First, it was education, then my sophomore year I thought I'd be designing Bobcats or something more agriculturally related. I landed on the medical arm, which is a little different, but I'm excited to take what I've learned and apply it now."
"When I was interviewing for the internship, the HR people asked about my major - ag engineering technology. They said they'd honestly never heard of that. Most people who go into this particular part of the field have a biomedical or mechanical engineering background. It took some explaining," she says. "Yes, I'm ag engineering, but that means my examples in class are focused on ag examples. It's still the same engineering principles that apply to every different type of engineering. It's going to be a little different going into medical devices but it's the same engineering aspects. Here at UWRF I trained my mind for problem solving and the engineering process. How I apply it is my choice."
Her passion for her field, and women's place in her field, is obvious.
"I did a research project on women in male-dominated fields, especially engineering. I looked at how we bring value and I wish I could give everyone my paper! It's something I've been an advocate for. I'm truly passionate about it," Alexus says. "When I see a young female in that area, I just want to give her a pat on the back and tell her to keep going, don't let them push you down. I know it can be intimidating, but I had to push myself out of my comfort zone.
Reflecting on her path, it's clear that it has brought Alexus to where she is now.
"It's been a challenge and it's going to be a challenge," she said. "I'm up for it."