It Is Never Too Late to Be a Civil Engineer

By Michelle Calcagno, June 2020

Most people are teenagers when they enter college and have to choose a major. I was a 17-year-old student at the University of Illinois–Champaign, and I chose to major in finance.

What did I really know about finance? What do most students know about what a lifetime in their chosen major or career path will be like?

Many students, including 17-year-old me, choose a career path based on what they think or what someone told them will be a “good job.” The negative aspects of most professions are not the ones that are emphasized at career fairs. So, unfortunately, many people don’t find out until after beginning their career that their chosen path is not the best fit for them.
My story is a little different.
I had to leave the University of Illinois after my second year because of financial hardship. I began working full-time as a drywall laborer to support myself. I did that for three years, then switched to concrete because I liked heavy work. I tried to pursue my education over the years, but my long work hours and physically demanding job made it nearly impossible to do both. Finally, after 18 years as a construction laborer, I was able to pursue my education full-time and returned to school as a nontraditional student in 2017 to become a structural engineer.
I graduated last month from the University of Illinois at Chicago with a B.S. in civil engineering. My goal was to be admitted to the University of California, Berkeley, to pursue an M.S. in Structural Engineering because it is the number one structural graduate program in the country.  Applying to Berkeley was a nerve-racking experience because I knew my statements had to be perfect.  I am thankful every day for Ms. Crnkovich and the English education that I received at Trinity.  I was so nervous that I called Ms. Crnkovich for writing advice.  Her words helped settle my nerves and clarify what each statement should include.  Because of the disparity in writing skills of those that did not attend Trinity, I only trusted Trinity alums to proofread my statements (thanks Delores Austin LaBranche ’97 and Salomea Bittenbinder Klunzinger ’95).  I am still in shock that I accomplished my goal and will be attending Berkeley this fall. 

I am appreciative of the education I received at Trinity because it undoubtedly facilitated my success.  My life experiences and education have given me the tools to manage hardships, and nothing will prevent me from accomplishing all that I am capable of. I hope my story can inspire someone to pursue her happiness. It is never too late! 
To read more about Michelle’s inspiring journey and her partnership with the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) in piloting the ASCE’s “Legends” program, click the links below.