Scholar Stories: Steltenkamp Leaping at Engineering Opportunities

Oct. 12, 2016

Every Wednesday during the 2016-17 academic year, will highlight a different student-athlete and his or her academic path. These are our Scholar Stories.

On Saturdays in the fall, senior Nicole Steltenkamp shows off her athletic abilities on the field at Michigan Stadium.

No, she's not strapping on a helmet, ready to run down the field full-speed and hit someone. But she's down there as a member of the University of Michigan dance team -- she, too, leads her team in front of nearly 110,000 people.

The next day, she's one of a select few U-M student-athletes at the Duderstadt Center, a collaborative, multi-purpose facility on North Campus where she works toward completing her degree in mechanical engineering. Mechanical engineering is widely regarded as one of the most difficult majors on campus, but Steltenkamp enjoys it, indicating that she had the inclination from an early age.

"I've always loved taking things apart and putting them back together," she said.

This past summer, Steltenkamp had the opportunity to do just that at Fiat-Chrysler Automobiles headquarters in Auburn Hills, where she worked in Advanced Vehicle Development. There, she helped build interior systems of fully functional automobiles.

After graduation, Steltenkamp will go back full-time as part of the Chrysler Institute of Engineering program, a two-year rotation during which she will be exposed to seven different potential roles at the company. She will also get her master's in mechanical engineering at Oakland University on the company dime.

For three consecutive summers, Steltenkamp has interned in the auto industry, an interest she attributes to her grandfather's career. Completing an engineering course load, dancing competitively and securing internships during three consecutive summers are all daunting tasks. But Steltenkamp wasn't satisfied only focusing on her own interests.

"Mentorship is something that's always been important to me," she said.

When the opportunity to be a mentor for younger engineers came up, she jumped on it.

"You forget how much you learn at Michigan until you have to tell someone else about it. It's awesome when a freshman comes back to you and says 'I got this internship' or 'I had the confidence to go to the career fair' and you know you played a role in all of it."

This leadership quality -- this desire to help mentor and develop others -- comes naturally to Steltenkamp. In high school, she was a self-proclaimed "band kid" and served as drum major during her senior year at Seaholm High School in Birmingham, Michigan.

"That's kind of when I realized I wanted music and leadership to be a part of my college experience," she said.

Now, as she begins her third year on the dance team (her first as captain), she's not ready for the experience to end.

"Oh, I think I'll definitely be sad when dance season's over. Especially being just a third-year on the team. I'll miss the academic part, too. I just won't miss going to 'The Dude' at six in the morning to study."

Steltenkamp photo
Steltenkamp in the engineering machine shop

Of course, graduating and moving on to the professional world means a reset in the pecking order, as she'll move from captain and leader to nascent employee at the Chrysler Institute of Engineering. But Steltenkamp's outlook is wholly positive. She's looking forward to the challenge and, unsurprisingly, her goal in her professional life is to become a leader in the automotive industry.

Yes, as the youngest employee she'll miss out on assisting others as they navigate their transition phases; it will be Steltenkamp who will play the role of freshman in need of guidance. She doesn't know anyone else in the program, a stark contrast from the campus environment she's been a part of for the past three-plus years.

But don't expect this newbie phase to last for long. Her track record suggests that she'll again find herself ahead of the curve, leading the way for others.

After April, Steltenkamp will likely never lead a team out on the field again. Her work won't be nearly as emotional, and there won't be anyone buying tickets to watch her perform. Nonetheless, some people have a knack for being able to showcase their skills in everything they do.

Dancing or not, she'll be ready for any opportunity that comes her way.

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