This is the last of a series of 20 profiles of The Gazette’s Best and Brightest Class of 2019.
Sun Lee decided that she might want to be an engineer after making a small train out of components created on a 3D printer.
She’s not talking about driving a locomotive, but rather environmental engineering which uses all sorts of sciences and math to improve communities and the Earth.
She stumbled on this track when out of curiosity she took an elective course in engineering at Doherty High School. The train was created in class with the then-new technique of using a 3D printer to make three dimensional solid objects from a digital file.
One of only two girls in class, Lee was doubtful she would make it through the semester. It was especially intimidating when the boys were so adept at using drills and saws to make objects that illustrated the math behind lever and pulley systems. But, Lee says, in spite of never having worked with those tools, “My curiosity overflowed with each turn of the drill and turn of the drill bit. If they could do it. I could do it. This attitude kept me going not only through all my engineering classes, but also through every part of my life.”
She used that same grit to excel at tennis, winning regional awards. “It was hard, I pushed myself to do better.”
She had thought about becoming a doctor, and volunteered at a hospital, getting to see some surgeries.
“The blood got to me. I knew I could never do it,” she said. She did like working on the patient units helping them order food and do other errands. She was nervous at first, not sure how to interact, but the patients were mostly bored and wanted to tell her their stories. “I learned how important adaptability and composure is in stressful situations and the simple effect kindness has on a stranger who might be going through more than what’s on the surface.”
Lee’s parents are immigrants from South Korea, and as a minority, she says she has been passionate about learning about many cultures. Last summer, she participated in the Multicultural Engineering Training program at Colorado School of Mines for high school junior and senior girls from underrepresented populations. As they engaged in real-life applications of engineering, the lessons were much more than mathematical.
“We were from many backgrounds, but as we worked closely we found that individually pushing each other to the top helped us all as a whole.”
She learned another valuable lesson on a field study trip down the Green River. She still recalls her biology teacher underlining that everything in biology was eloquent. Seeing nature in all its beauty, she understood that. On the last day, the teacher said something else that stuck. “He said while our memories of the nature around us will be untouched almost perfect, but humans have the tendency to destroy what we love.”
Lee sees such honoring of diversity and sustaining the environment coming together in her chosen career of environmental engineering. She will attend Cornell University this fall and sees it as an opportunity to be part of a team that has a passion for improving communities around the world.
There is something truly eloquent, she says, about the ability of humans to create an interwoven relationship between their footprints, their environment and innovation.