The evolution of an engineer
Clark “is the reason I am where I am.” ~ Sarah Morgan ’11, systems engineer, Johnson Space Center supporting the International Space Station
Sarah Morgan enlisted in the Navy shortly after finishing high school, in Florida. Working as an aircraft mechanic on a squadron of Super Hornet fighter jets, she often worked alongside a mechanical engineer, including one from Boeing who got her interested in engineering.
By the time she completed her service and found herself living in Vancouver, Wash., Morgan knew she wanted to get an engineering degree. But at 26 years old, she was nervous about college.
“After eight years of not doing any schoolwork, the idea of going to a university was scary,” she said recently.
Morgan ’11 enrolled at Clark College, where she quickly found a supportive community. Someone at Clark learned she was a veteran and pointed her toward the Veterans Resource Center, which helped her access tuition benefits from the GI Bill.
“When you come out of the military, there’s just a lot of unknowns,” she said. “There’s supposed to be a lot of resources and help but it’s not always obvious how (to get help). And there’s lots of forms and processes that have to be done in a very specific way. Clark … took all the guesswork out of it.”
Working now as an engineer in Texas, Morgan hasn’t forgotten the support she received that helped her thrive during her Clark experience. Each quarter, Morgan donates money to Clark College Foundation. Her employer matches her donation, dollar for dollar, so it was an easy decision to give back.
“I’m really grateful to Clark. And I’m grateful for the scholarships and grants and donations that prior alumni gave that helped me along the way,” she said. “It’s a great place to go to school.”
She recalls how encouraging her engineering professors, Tina Barsotti and Carol Hsu, were when she was in the classroom. They were tough but also fun, bringing the theory of engineering to life. At the end of every term, each class was assigned a project.
“One year we built a vertical access wind turbine out of recycled materials,” Morgan said. “It was a competition to see who could get the most energy out of their turbine.”
For another class, students designed an adaptation to help a wheelchair-bound student access his or her backpack. And for another class, Morgan and her classmates had to build towers out of dried pasta, competing to see whose tower was the lightest, tallest and could support the greatest mass.
“We were just piling textbooks onto them,” she said.
Morgan’s enthusiasm for engineering led her to join the Clark student club, STEM N.E.R.D. Girls and Geeks. She eventually became the club’s president. Through the club, Morgan shared a version of the projects that she looked forward to at the end of each college quarter with the local community. Club members visited Vancouver-area schools and did science and engineering activities with the younger students.
In one elementary school, they made lip balm—an experiment that demonstrated the principle of emulsion and offered practice in measurements and calculations. In middle and high schools, they launched water bottle rockets.
“The activities changed from year to year, depending on who was involved and what their interests were,” Morgan said. But one thing remained constant: “It was good people.”
When Morgan was president of the club, she helped organize an event bringing K-12 students from all over Vancouver to Clark’s campus for a variety of STEM activities and lectures.
Morgan said she would “definitely” still volunteer with N.E.R.D. Girls if she still lived in the Vancouver area.
When Morgan graduated from Clark in 2011, she transferred to Washington State University in Vancouver and found she was well-equipped to complete her bachelor’s in mechanical engineering. Clark had dispelled her fear of universities. She was hired by Boeing upon graduation and now works at the Johnson Space Center in Houston as a systems engineer to support the International Space Station under a contract with NASA.
Clark, she said, “is the reason I am where I am.”
Story by Lily Raff McCaulou