At a school of Leaders and Best, Laura Andre stands out.
A PhD student who works on laser cooling of solids, Andre serves as President of the Optics Society (OSUM) and is an active member of the ECE Graduate Student Council, the Graduate Student Advisory Committee, and the Graduate Society for Women Engineers. She is also a student ambassador for ECE.
“I have a tendency to say ‘yes’ to most opportunities that come my way,” Andre says. “I was completely impressed with all the opportunities here, and I wanted to do everything.”
For her “outstanding leadership and service to the college, university, and community,” the College of Engineering has recognized Andre with the Distinguished Leadership Award. Despite her gung-ho attitude and impressive résumé, Andre says she’d never thought of herself as a leader until she took a course through the Center for Entrepreneurship called, “Interpersonal Skills: Leveling up to Leadership.”
“It was a truly life-changing course,” Andre said. “We learned a lot about leadership skills in theory, but I wanted to see if I could really do it in practice, so in May of last year, I took on my first leadership role, which was becoming the President of the Optics Society.”
Part of Andre’s vision for OSUM is for it to become more inclusive. She hopes to attract more than just ECE students specializing in optics and photonics, such as students from other departments, including Chemistry, Robotics, and Mechanical Engineering.
“In those areas, maybe people aren’t studying fundamental optics and principles of light specifically, but they’re using optics in the lab as a tool for measurement or characterization,” she explains. “I’ve really enjoyed setting the direction for the organization and creating this collaborative community for optics students.”
OSUM also puts substantial effort into outreach. Andre organized a new project in partnership with the Peace Neighborhood Center, which is a community organization that provides programs and services to children, families, and individuals who are socially and economically disadvantaged. Every week in the Winter 2019 semester, a member of OSUM and volunteers from the Ann Arbor Section of the Optical Society of America host an after-school club to teach kids about optics, as well as science and engineering. They bring recycled consumer electronics – such as old point-and-shoot cameras – and have the students disassemble the items to learn about the different components and subsystems, and then use the scrap parts to build something new.
As a member of the ECE Graduate Student Council, Andre helps plan activities for student professional and technical development, as well as social events to bring the graduate student community together. Recently, she planned a mixer for students in ECE and Physics, and helped acquire a community grant to hold another mixer for students in ECE, CSE, and Robotics.
I really enjoy helping to form a closer-knit community.PhD student Laura Andre
“I really enjoy helping to form a closer-knit community,” Andre says. “ECE is such a big department. As grad students, we get stuck our daily routines, and – especially for PhD students who are done with classes – we spend a lot of time in the lab or our office. If you haven’t made a core group of friends, it’s hard to branch out again as an older grad student.”
In addition to all her campus-related activities, Andre has a multitude of hobbies. She’s an avid rock climber, and loves anything to do with the outdoors, including hiking, backpacking, camping, and most water-related sports. She recently vacationed in Michigan’s U.P. to go ice climbing – which is like rock climbing, except with frozen waterfalls. She also enjoys racing stand-up paddleboards in the summertime. She is a master of time-management.
“I’m very organized,” she says. “I have a tendency to do things right away. I really appreciate efficiency and enjoy optimizing tasks and processes, which I think is also why I was drawn to engineering.”
While Andre was initially attracted to U-M because of the breadth of high-quality research, it was the students and community that really sold her. She was excited to get involved with organizations that effectively create a positive, supportive environment.
“I think grad school is actually a really great time in your life,” Andre says. “In a PhD program, you’re essentially getting paid to study exactly what you’re interested in and passionate about. Despite the negative connotations usually associated with grad school, I think it can be a really positive experience. The key is to balance your work with activities you enjoy and surround yourself with people that support you.”