Alabama student accelerates through Purdue Calumet engineering program

From an early age, Madison, Alabama native Rachel Mok could be found tinkering with her Lego sets, fueling a passion and joy for engineering. Years later, her passion led her to Purdue University Calumet to pursue a degree in mechanical engineering.

After three years of study in a program that typically takes five to complete, while achieving a 4.0 grade point average, Mok, 21, will receive her bachelor’s degree Sunday (5/22, 6 p.m.) during university Commencement Exercises at the Radisson Star Plaza Theatre in Merrillville.

At the age of 12, Mok recognized her love for problem solving, deciding to one day become an engineering professor.

“I loved the whole assembling aspect of Lego toys, being able to create something with my hands,” Mok said. “But at the same time, I really wanted to teach people and help them… I like the fact that professors are still able to solve problems, but also interact and work with students.”

Before earning an advanced diploma from Bob Jones High School in Madison, Ala. in 2008, Mok began her search for a university to attend.

“None of the other schools I applied to would fund as much of my education as Purdue Calumet did,” she said. “I’m very grateful that they (admissions officials) believed in me so much.”

She said she was introduced to Purdue Calumet and its engineering program by a U.S. News & World Report article, which suggested a sense of community experience at the Northwest Indiana campus that was attractive to her.

“I really enjoyed the fact that professors teach my classes; at bigger universities, this isn’t always the case,” she said. “I know I learn better in a smaller setting.”

Crediting the Purdue Calumet faculty for working alongside her throughout her three-year endeavor at the university, Mok said the small class sizes and personal interactions with her professors aided her academic pursuits.

Professor and Head of the Department of Mechanical Engineering Chenn Zhou said Mok excels at her studies because she knows what she loves.

“Rachel’s joy in what she does motivates her,” Zhou said.

Such motivations led Mok to volunteer as a student tutor and serve as team captain of one of Purdue Calumet’s two entries in this spring’s annual NASA moon buggy competition at Huntsville, Ala.

Mok also contributed indirectly to efforts that led to the rescue of 33 Chilean miners last fall. She was among six Purdue Calumet mechanical engineering students who conducted research for the drilling firm, Layne Christensen Company, which reached the miners more than two months after they had been trapped nearly 2,300 feet underground. Mok and her classmates performed stress analysis on critical components of the company’s newly developed sonic drilling system that freed the miners.

Mok said her desire to meet people propelled her heavy involvement in extracurricular activities at Purdue Calumet. Zhou added that students frequently would share how much they loved attending tutoring sessions that Mok led because of her friendliness and heart for helping.

Zhou also said Mok is among the top students over the past 20 years to complete Purdue Calumet’s mechanical engineering program, mirroring the image and quality of the department.

Mok and Zhou met at Purdue Calumet’s annual spring dinner in 2008 when Mok was a prospective student. Zhou said she immediately was impressed by Mok’s humble, yet ambitious character.

As Mok prepares to begin graduate studies at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, she credits much of her success to the community atmosphere Purdue Calumet provides.

“Although Purdue Calumet is a (relatively) small campus, I have enjoyed my experience here,” she said.  “There are many great teachers. I owe a lot of my achievements to the personal attention I received from the faculty and staff here. Coming here has really helped me to grow.”

(Written by Office of University Relations student intern Lane Lareau)