The Michigan Engineer News Center

Laura Pillari: Going the distance

Laura found her own calling her first year at U-M, when a senator came to speak to her class and listed society’s top ten problems. Number one was an energy crisis, something that clicked with math-proficient Laura and led her to Ann Arbor.| Medium Read

Laura Pillari is a Michigan Engineering alum. She got her bachelors degree in Mechanical Engineering from U-M in 2012 and then went on to get her Masters at Cambridge. She now lives in Aberdeen, Scotland where she works for BP United Kingdom as a Subsea Project Engineering Intern.

When asked to describe herself, Laura hesitates before expressing the hope that she’s “not boring”. As a recent graduate of Michigan Engineering who salsa dances in her free time, is about to spend the summer interning in Scotland and is pursuing a Master’s degree at the University of Cambridge, she’s anything but.

Laura found her own calling her first year at U-M, when a senator came to speak to her class and listed society’s top ten problems. Number one was an energy crisis, something that clicked with math-proficient Laura and led her to Ann Arbor.

She initially struggled with the worry of being “good enough” to be an engineer — she stressed out about getting good grades and trying out as many different extracurricular clubs and activities as possible. But once she got here, Laura realized she was surrounded by normal, balanced people who get Bs and spend their free time hanging out with friends just like everyone else. It just so happens that they also learn skills that help them develop groundbreaking technology.

The biggest skill Laura’s learned from her undergrad years? Don’t walk around campus thinking “I can’t do this; this is what the smart kids do and I’m not smart enough. And I can’t do this; this is what the frat boys do and I’m not fratty enough. See yourself doing it, because you can literally join and do anything you want here.”

EnlargeLaura Pillari with the U-M Supermileage team
IMAGE:  Laura Pillari with the U-M Supermileage team

“There’s nothing that’s not available to you. You think that you’re imagining it, but it’s actually occurring. It’s a pretty indescribable feeling.” –Laura Pillari

That’s how she founded her “baby,” the University’s first Supermileage team — which competes annually to build the car that uses the least amount of fuel to go a set distance — in 20 years, now boasting two dozen members who are all ready to take the reins when she leaves. Along the way, she realized that engineering advisors (described with a fond smile as “so awesome and encouraging and insightful”) will never say no to new ideas, only help bring them realistically to fruition.

One of Laura’s dreams is now just that. She likens the moment that she got into Cambridge to watching someone win on American Idol, shouting and crying in ecstatic shock about achieving the impossible. “There’s nothing that’s not available to you. You think that you’re imagining it, but it’s actually occurring. It’s a pretty indescribable feeling.”

Laura Pillari with the U-M Supermileage team
Portrait of Brad Whitehouse

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Brad Whitehouse
Editor for Alumni Communications

Michigan Engineering
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