Q&A: Society of Women Engineers (UCI) President Rachael Koo

Mechanical engineering junior Rachael Koo is braking engineer at HyperXite

Feb.29, 2024 - Rachael Koo is the president of UCI’s chapter of the Society of Women Engineers and a braking engineer on HyperXite, a student team that builds Hyperloop prototypes, a futuristic ultra-high speed transportation system that uses electromagnetic propulsion.

What inspired you to be an engineer?

My dad was a mechanical engineer so he inspired me a lot. In high school, my dad encouraged me to work on his 30-year-old Mitsubishi truck with him. It was a lot of fun. I also really enjoyed playing with Legos growing up, seeing how you could do so much by putting modular pieces together. I wanted to explore that creative side.

What do you like most about engineering?

I like constantly being challenged, being able to problem solve and use my brain. I really like doing puzzle games like Sudoku - exercising my brain like that. Being able to have a career where you’re doing that every day is very special to me.

Rachael Koo (right) with Anthony Chin (left) working on HyperXite

Why did you choose HyperXite?

I’m definitely a go-getter in wanting to be as hands on as early as possible. Talking with a member of the braking team during Winter Design Review my first year and seeing her passion, I really wanted to be a part of it. The Hyperloop concept is really interesting to me because I see the way transportation is falling behind in the United States. Other countries have really advanced technology. I think it’s really important for the U.S. to continue our research in transportation because it interconnects all of us around the country.

Do you think there will be a Hyperloop?

In the next 50 years, I definitely think so. There are other Hyperloop prototype teams working day and night on this in other countries as well. Somewhere in the world the hyperloop concept will be perfected.

What do you think the future of transportation will be?

Clean air. We see the direction electric cars are going with Tesla, Rivian and Lucid Motors. I think the future of transportation is going to be a lot more electric, and electromagnetic for Hyperloop pods. I think the world will be a lot more interconnected because of it.

What do you think women bring to the field of engineering?

Women bring new perspectives. Having a diverse workforce is crucial because when you have just one homogenous group - say just white cis men - you’re lacking a lot of opinions, perspectives. Having other minorities and diversity is so important to get new perspectives and new ideas going.

What’s the most challenging aspect of being a woman in engineering?

Honestly, the imposter syndrome. A lot of women can agree that we’ve felt this as the workforce in engineering is heavily male dominated. We all face the imposter syndrome of “Can we really do this? Do we deserve to be here?” and I think we have the challenge of getting over that mental barrier.

Tell me about SWE – the Society of Women Engineers.

The Society of Women Engineers helps battle the imposter syndrome. It provides women with an environment to see other women in engineering and have role models to look up to. I’ve had mentors, and when I see how successful they are, I think to myself, “If they can do it, I can do it too.” I think it’s so crucial to have that community. We also have outreach programs for girls K-12 to inspire them to get involved in STEM.

How was your internship at Northrop Grumman?

I had a great time. I worked on the MQ-4C Triton, an unmanned aerial vehicle for reconnaissance missions. As systems test intern, I performed testing and evaluation for that aircraft. I had the opportunity to be incredibly hands on. I got to conduct tests on the aircraft and learn important processes for testing.

What do you want to do after you graduate?

I want to start in a technical position and work my way up into management. I really developed a love for managerial positions after my experience being president of the Society of Women Engineers at UCI.

Any tips for students about internships and senior projects?

I’d say network. I got my internship opportunity at the National Society of Women Engineers Conference. I’ve seen so many others get interviews and job offers there. Applying through a website is not enough because networking is how 70% of people get internships and jobs these days.  Get to know your peers, professors, company representatives and get involved in organizations like SWE. That’s how I gained a lot of my connections.

In terms of senior design projects, I’d say showing interest, passion and a willingness to learn is so important because that’s what a lot of projects are looking for. They’re looking for students who are not afraid to challenge themselves and who are open to failing and learning from that.  I started with smaller projects and eventually gained enough experience to interview for a larger project like HyperXite.

What do you do for fun?

I recently gained a lot more free time so I finally was able to build a PC.  I was into gaming when I was younger but had to stop during high school and college due to time constraints but now I’m getting back into it. I’m also a foodie and have an Instagram page for all the new food and restaurants I’m trying.

What would you like to say to young women in STEM?

I want to say: You should pursue it. Don’t give up. You’ll be encountering obstacles as a woman in engineering but it’s getting better. I have this mentality that as you climb to the top of the mountain, you should pull others with you. As you have success, pull others up as well.

- Natalie Tso


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