Lingchao Mao is a senior who participated in the Research Experiences for Undergraduates Program and received the 2017 Alpha Pi Mu Outstanding Sophomore Award as well as the 2019 Faculty Senior Scholar Award.
What do LEGOs, a construction contractor, and living your best life have in common? In the case of Lingchao Mao, they all served as the inspiration to pursue a career in engineering. As far back as elementary school, Mao has loved to build things with LEGOs. “I was one of those kids who would save all my money to buy the newest LEGO spaceship model,” shared Mao. The construction contractor arrived at her door one summer. Her family’s restaurant was undergoing a big renovation that gave Mao the opportunity to follow the lead contractor around. “I saw his ability to build and problem solve as I had never seen in other professions,” she recalled. When most people think about living their best life, they usually think about being smart, popular, influential, and independent. But Mao thinks a little differently, “I want to be a great problem-solver. Because solving problems for others makes me fulfilled. It brings value and enjoyment all at once.”
Mao is an international student who came from Spain, so she had many U.S. universities to consider. NC State stood out as having great engineering and statistics programs, two areas that she enjoyed. Another key was the location. The RTP area is home to many great IT companies such as SAS, IBM, and Cisco. At many universities, recruiters must travel a great distance to attend the campus career fair, but NC State is just a 10-minute drive. This opens room for many on-campus company events and mentorship programs to start building one’s network. Another key reason was the weather. “It is not as hot as the Miami Beaches and almost every spring it snows and we get our classes canceled,” joked Mao. “Isn’t that great?”
Once she had decided on NC State, Mao had to pick a major. The problem was that she liked all of the engineering programs. “You can’t do 18 programs at once,” confessed Mao. So, she decided on industrial and systems engineering because she felt it was an “all-in-one” engineering package. “You get to learn a little about civil, mechanical, and electrical engineering; material science, business, as well as useful job skills such as production, logistics, and simulation,” said Mao. The Systems Analytics and Optimization track was attractive to her and the curriculum fit well with her second major, statistics. She also likes the practicality of the ISE program. “It does not only teach you tools, formulas, and concepts, but it also instills a mindset in you, a drive to optimize.”
Her dream job would involve developing algorithms and models. “But like many students, I am still in the stage of reading research papers, attending webinars, and exploring internships and research experiences,” said Mao. After graduation, Mao plans to pursue a Ph.D. in operations research after taking a road trip to Yellowstone National Park. “Plan B would be an M.S. in computational data science,” confided Mao.
But right now, Mao thinks that being a college student is one of the best jobs in the world? “You get to do all the things that NC State has to offer while getting time to think about what you want to do with your life and who you want to become.”