Engineering and Math Grad Finds Her Confidence at St. Ambrose


Ellie Schilling '24 has always wanted to be an engineer. Her grandfather, a professor of electrical engineering, was her driving influence. She was fascinated by his tales about technological advancements.

"He would tell me all these amazing stories about computers the size of a room, and how suddenly they can fit in our pockets," Schilling said. "And I always thought that that was just amazing that people can create and invent things like that. I wanted to be a part of it."

Schilling fulfilled her dream at St. Ambrose University. A place that not only allowed her to grow her confidence but helped her pursue her many interests.

Her accolades are many - three-time national champion with the St. Ambrose dance team, co-captain of the dance team, co-researcher of a study focused on a collaboration between student support services and athletics, math tutor, and co-founder of Math Club.

"It feels really good to have been a part of something and to have helped pilot multiple things that are going to be around longer than I will," Schilling said. "That was kind of always something that I wanted to do, but I didn't think I would ever accomplish. But I did accomplish something that I hope stays around for a very long time."

Schilling was quiet in high school. Not the type of person you'd expect to leave college with such a list of accomplishments.

"I used to be very, very shy. I would never talk. I just kept my head down, got what I needed to do done, and went home."

But Schilling found her place at St. Ambrose. It all started with a simple internet search.

"I didn't really know about any other engineering programs in the area so I Googled ‘engineering programs near me,' and St. Ambrose popped up," Schilling explained. "I hadn't heard of St. Ambrose before but one of the things I saw was that they had won a national championship in dance. I thought ‘That might be a cool thing that I could try and be a part of, as well as get my degree.'"

Schilling has been dancing since she was two years old. Growing up in the Iowa City area, she knew a large school wasn't for her. When she found St. Ambrose - a school with an engineering degree and a dance team she could compete on - it seemed like the perfect match. A recruiting clinic sealed her fate.

"The way the coach talked about the university and the program that she ran, really made me realize that I wanted to be a part of the school here, and I wanted to be part of a community like that, and I never got that feeling from any other university," Schilling said.

Every experience she was promised at that clinic was fulfilled. One-on-one time with professors - check. A tight-knit community-check. Knowing everyone in your major - check. A supportive environment committed to student success - check.

A double major in mechanical engineering and math, Schilling had to remain organized and focused to graduate on-time and balance her daunting workload. She says it wasn't easy but being a part of the dance team helped keep her focused and fueled her passion to help other student-athletes succeed.

Schilling became a Calculus I tutor in St. Ambrose's Student Success Center during her second semester in college. She continued to add courses to her tutoring schedule as she progressed through the math program. During that time, she got to know Sarah Rissler, PhD, director of the Student Success Center, who inspired Schilling to care about the success of those around her.

When Rissler sent an email to math tutors asking if someone could help her with statistics about athletic study halls, Schilling jumped at the opportunity.

"I knew from the beginning that this is something that Ambrose needs," Schilling said. "On the cheer and dance teams we were having problems with dancers and cheerleaders who were so talented but they were academically ineligible so they couldn't be on the mat and they couldn't be on the court.

"I convinced my coach to have the cheer and dance teams be a part of the athletic study halls. We went from five athletes ineligible to only one athlete ineligible, which is a huge difference in just a year."

Schilling partnered with another student, Emily McColgan '24, on the athletics study hall research project. They presented their findings at the annual St. Ambrose Undergraduate Scholars Conference.

"We had some really interesting data to show that these study halls are having a positive effect specifically on the Ambrose football team," Schilling said. "Once we get some more data from the football team and other teams who have started to participate in the study halls, I really hope that we can publish a paper showing the benefits of these athletic study halls, specifically for NAIA schools."

During her summer breaks, Schilling pursued internships to widen her understanding of the engineering field. She interned at SSAB, a steel mill company in Iowa - where she learned about common software used by engineers - and Firefly Aerospace in Texas - where she helped test rocket engines that launch satellites into orbit. She received job offers from both companies.

"That was a phenomenal experience," Schilling said of her time at Firefly Aerospace. "I sent a bunch of applications to some aerospace companies just to see if I would even be on anybody's radar. Honestly, I didn't really expect to hear back. I was kind of this unknown person from a smaller university, shooting a shot in the dark. When I heard back I was super excited."

Schilling is still weighing her job options, but Firefly is at the top of her list for post-college opportunities.

According to Schilling, none of her achievements at St. Ambrose would have been possible at another university.

"Ambrose has given me the confidence to try things that I didn't think I was going to be able to do. Like the Firefly internship I got. I didn't really think I was going to get it, but I still applied for it anyway. I don't think I would have had that confidence if I'd gone to a bigger school. If I faded into the background and just kept being who I was in high school. Being at this school has really brought out a more confident side of me."

Her ultimate goal is to work with robots. And although that might not be in her immediate future, Schilling is confident she has the tools she needs to succeed as a mechanical engineer.

"I think I have a leg up on people because I've gotten to ask the really deep questions about the things I'm interested in. I've gotten really hands-on experiences with my education that I don't think I would have gotten at a big school."

Ellie Schilling ’24

Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering and Math

“I think I have a leg up on people because I've gotten to ask the really deep questions about the things I'm interested in. I've gotten really hands-on experiences with my education that I don't think I would have gotten at a big school.”

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