January 03, 2013

Grad's drive to learn sets her on PhD path at 18

Posted: January 03, 2013
Lauren McBurnett ASU Grad
Lauren McBurnett recently graduated at age 18 from ASU's Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering.
Photo by: Rosie Gochnour/ASU
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Lauren McBurnett is doing big things, fast.

At age 18, McBurnett has already completed her undergraduate degree in civil engineering from Arizona State University. She got off to her quick start with time spent in public schools, charter schools and homeschooling until at age 13 she pursued dual high school/college enrollment opportunities at Chandler-Gilbert Community College.

McBurnett tried a lot of different approaches to education as she searched for the best way to overcome her struggles with dyslexia. She found that homeschooling and the one-on-one approach enabled her to create the learning strategies that worked best for her.

“My mother has homeschooled all three of my siblings at one point or another, but it was different for each of us. Mainly she always promoted what we as learners wanted,” says McBurnett. By the time she transferred to ASU at age 16, McBurnett was a math- and science-loving engineer with a lot of motivation.

A straight-A student in community college, McBurnett admits that she experienced “a typical transfer student GPA drop,” but it was only temporary. She says that the resources that ASU provided more than made up for any of the challenges she faced and she quickly regained her top grades.

“When I came in as a transfer student, I felt more driven than ever as a learner and a student,” says McBurnett. She credits a portion of this drive to Fulton Engineering’s Motivated Engineering Transfer Students program – called METS – a program that offers courses, resources and scholarships for transfer students at ASU.

Through METS, McBurnett received a transfer student scholarship and took a course that taught her how to study at a university level.

“It’s a different feel on a big campus, but in the end all of the same opportunities are available if you seek them out, plus many more,” says McBurnett. “Your teachers don’t come to you all the time – you have to go to them. When you do, they have the skills, patience and expertise to give you all the help that you need.”

McBurnett also encourages transfer students to form small study groups in each class and to look into engineering programs and clubs offered at ASU. She is a member of Chi Epsilon, the civil engineering honor society, and the ASU branch of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE).

For McBurnett, her involvement in engineering activities took her all the way to Kenya, something she “never expected to be doing by age 18.” This trip came through her involvement with the ASU chapter of Engineers Without Borders, a national organization that focuses on utilizing engineering skills to solve problems across the globe. McBurnett spent two years on her Engineers Without Borders team working to implement better rain water collection strategies in Bondo, Kenya.

This project included designing a collection system that fit the community’s needs, abilities, and financial restraints, and then submitting a proposal to the larger Engineers Without Borders organization for approval. McBurnett’s team expanded upon current technologies and came up with the idea to store rainwater from school roofs into a large, cost-effective tank in the ground. With approval, McBurnett and several other team members flew to Kenya to build, implement and teach the community about their solution – a solution that can be replicated and easily understood, helping Kenyans solve water infrastructure deficiencies across Bondo and neighboring communities.

In the spring, McBurnett will begin her doctoral program at ASU and hopes to continue serving local and global communities with her knowledge of water resources and engineering. McBurnett is expected to graduate with a doctorate at age 22.

McBurnett is quick to explain that she’s not a "child prodigy" or a genius by any means.

"I’m just one of those students that studies really, really hard and seeks help from teachers, tutors and fellow students at every chance I get,” she says. McBurnett says she’s grateful that ASU allows a student in her situation to not only succeed, but excel.

And, don’t worry, McBurnett wants everyone to know that she had time to make it to a prom.

Written by Rosie Gochnour

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Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering