Scholars Speak: Guest Blog by Forman Scholar Abigail Sharp

Abigail Sharp shares her thoughts to our Scholars Speak student blog series. Abigail is a fifth-year student at The George Washington University, where she is majoring in systems engineering and minoring in business administration.  

Read on to hear about many of Abigail’s impactful college experiences, the role the Forman S. Acton Educational Foundation has played in her college career and the advice she has for students just beginning the college search process. 

What does pursuing a college degree mean to you?  

Pursuing a college degree is about proving to yourself that you have the dedication and commitment to learning and setting yourself up on a path toward future success. College is full of new knowledge, experiences, lessons and career connections that are unique and have the ability to heavily influence your future.

What’s something you didn’t know during your first year in college that you wish you knew?  

 

It’s okay to not always like your roommates, your classes or even your university. Even though I committed to GW at the end of my senior year of high school, I wasn’t always convinced that was where I was supposed to be at first. Throughout my first semester, most of my conversations with my mom were about my wanting to transfer because my classes at GW were full of challenging and unfamiliar material, my transition from farm to city life wasn’t progressing as fast as my peers and my time management skills were not up to par. After some consideration and exploration, I switched my major to something that I actually enjoyed – that decision was a game changer. When you are pursuing something you are passionate about, you will have all the motivation and dedication you will ever need to overcome whatever challenges you may be facing both in and out of the classroom. 

What is your most memorable academic moment from your time in college? 

Like many engineering students, my senior capstone project dominated much of my life this past year. After many 12-hour nights (6 p.m. to 6 a.m.) in the engineering hall and countless coffee runs, my team was able to create an energy analysis dashboard using Microsoft Excel that our client would be able to utilize at a project site. This project was the culmination of all of the classes I had taken since transitioning into the systems engineering program.

Halfway through the project, we presented our progress to our client, which consisted of the main proposal and the initial findings to date. The client was so impressed, they soon after requested that the members of my team schedule a time to interview with them for actual positions. Since completing my capstone 6 months ago, I have been interning for the company, and, if all goes according to plan, I plan on transitioning to a full-time project engineer position upon graduation in December! It’s crazy to think that one small decision to tackle a proposed problem for my capstone project has blossomed into a job offer in an industry I’m truly passionate about. 

Tell us a time when you overcame a challenge. 

During my freshman year, I quickly learned that chemistry was not my strong suit, so much so that I switched my major so I would never have to take a single chemistry class ever again. Two years later, I had the opportunity to interview for a research position in a Mississippi State University chemistry lab, working on a project that was an extension of a joint engineering project with GW. After being selected, I moved to Starkville, Mississippi, for three months to be a part of this research program.

Most of my peers in this program were studying either chemistry or chemical engineering, so there was a significant learning curve I had to overcome. Still, by the end of the summer, I was able to overcome this knowledge gap and articulate most of the chemistry involved in my project.

A few months into my senior year, I was notified by my advisors that another student and I were entered into GW’s Research and Design Showcase to present the entire project – both the chemistry and engineering components – to a panel of judges two days before the event was set to take place. Despite this lack of prep time, my partner and I were still able to present our material in a way that highlighted its complexity as well as its environmental value. We ended up winning the Best Undergraduate Poster honors for our department. Looking back, I can’t help but laugh. I went from literally failing chemistry to winning a research competition with a project that involved chemistry. Even though it took some time, I was eventually able to prove to myself that my abilities were not bound by a letter grade I received in a class I took my freshman year. 

For people who may not know about the Foundation, what role has the Foundation played in your educational journey?  

For the past four and a half years, the Foundation has emerged as one of my biggest supporters. I consider all of the Foundation’s staff to be like family. From in-person and over-the-phone check-ins to care packages and financial literacy programs, the Foundation has not only worked to relieve some of my financial burdens but also empowered me to better myself through continued education. College hasn’t always been the easiest, but, even during the rough patches, the Foundation has walked beside me and constantly reminded me to never doubt my capabilities. 

As someone who grew up in either Salem or the Salem area, how has your community shaped your upbringing, and what do you think is needed to ensure the best future for Salem? 

Growing up in Salem has demonstrated for me the importance of family and friends. I’ve always treasured the bonds I’ve formed with friends, teachers, family and other community members, whether they’ve been through my church on Broadway or Salem High School itself. Despite our diverse backgrounds, ethnicities, ages or education levels, one thing is clear: once a Ram, always a Ram. As someone that is not currently living in the Salem area, it is often my upbringing that grounds me in remembering what’s most important in life.

In order to ensure the best future for Salem, additional educational programming outside of school needs to be accessible, and a push toward college needs to be evident. The dual-enrollment partnership between Salem High School and Salem Community College, where high school students have the opportunity to simultaneously earn high school and college course credit is a perfect example. Having the ability to enter college with some credits already earned decrease the time and money needed to eventually earn a degree, making it more obtainable for more students.

If you had to give one piece of advice to a student who is applying for college, what would it be and why?  

 

As an incoming freshman, you will be able to shape and reshape your college trajectory as many times as you want, no matter where you are enrolled. There are so many deciding factors when choosing between potential colleges – degree programs, geographic location, financial aid offerings, student organizations, culture, even mascots (Go Hippos!). College is a time for you to spread your wings and experience the world that awaits you outside of your hometown. Ultimately, you should select a school that is going to encourage you to expand your knowledge and challenge you to step out of your comfort zone and embark upon new and potentially unfamiliar experiences.