ME student athletes thrive in and out of the classroom

Virginia Sereno and Paul Powers

U-M ME prides itself on building leaders who change the world and student athletes Paul Powers and Virginia Sereno are perfect examples.

Not only do Powers and Sereno know mechanical engineering, they know what it takes to succeed not only in the classroom, but in athletics as well. We recently sat down with each of them to find out just how they're able to juggle their jam packed academic and athletic calendars. One thing that became immediately apparent is that these Big-10 Champions certainly aren't strangers to dedication and hard work.

Meet ME’s Virginia Sereno, BIG 10 Track & Field

Virginia Sereno

How did you get involved in women's track and field and share with a me a few of your top accolades in the sport while here at U-M.

I walked onto the cross country and track and field teams at the beginning of my freshman year, seeing it as a fun extracurricular activity in which I could meet people outside of my classes on north campus while also maintaining my general level of fitness. I immediately loved being part of a team of girls who were driven both in academics and athletics, and found the competitive environment to be a conducive outlet for releasing energy and taking my mind off difficult assignments in school. As is common practice in our sport, I redshirted my freshman season of cross-country and indoor track in order to preserve eligibility for a potential fifth year. I raced my freshman outdoor season but was sidelined after two races with a stress-fracture in the third metatarsal of my right foot. My sophomore year, I returned to competition healthy and with the eligibility status of a freshman. Now, with a full fifth year of eligibility left, (cross country, indoor, and outdoor track and field) I hope to pursue a master’s degree in mechanical engineering at Michigan and continue donning the block “M” on the track and cross country courses. My top accolades include:

  • 2x NCAA All-American 2016, 10,000 meters, 6,000 meters (cross country) 
  • 2x B1G Ten Champion, 2016 outdoor 5,000 and 10,000 meter runs
  • B1G Ten Track Athlete of the Championships, 2016  
  • Concentrate in events of 1 mile, 5000m, 6000m (cross country) and 10,000m with collegiate personal bests of 4:36, 16:08, 20:15, and 33:35 respectively
  • Captain, cross country & track and field programs 
  • Runner-up team finish at NCAA Cross Country National Championships by 1 point, 2016 

What spurred your interest in mechanical engineering and why did you choose to study at the University of Michigan?

When I think about why I first became interested in mechanical engineering, my mind immediately jumps to experiences I had as a young girl tinkering around my house with my father. Whether we were replacing our rotting back porch steps with new weather-resistant ones, fixing a blown fuse in our home, or simply putting together a train set over the Christmas holidays, the fondest memories of my childhood have always involved problem solving and creativity. My specific interest in mechanical engineering stemmed during high school over a week-long science camp where a team of other high school students and I built a remote operated underwater vehicle capable of collecting floating tennis balls and other objects below the surface and corralling them into a target destination. When faced with deciding where I wanted to go to college, the University of Michigan stood out to me for its fantastic mechanical engineering program and the numerous research opportunities available at such a large university. While I did not know what areas of mechanical engineering I wanted to focus on, I felt confident that at such a large institution I would not have trouble finding a concentration area.

What do you see as the benefits of being involved in college athletics?

One of the major benefits I’ve experienced being involved in intercollegiate athletics has been the opportunity to train, travel, and compete around the country. Over the last four years I’ve been fortunate enough to travel to places like Palo Alto, California, Eugene, Oregon, Jacksonville, Florida, and Tempe, Arizona to represent the block “M.” These experiences have availed opportunities to learn about the differences in the cultures on college campuses, the different opinions of people my age, and the attitudes of different communities around the country. College campuses can sometimes feel like isolated bubbles and I’ve found it very refreshing to be able to step outside of our campus from time-to-time and into another for a fresh perspective.

Aside from that, another major benefit of being involved in athletics I see is the camaraderie associated with being a member of a team. There are many challenges in college and having a support system and network of teammates to trust has helped make the tough times I’ve faced that much more manageable. I consider my team to be my family here at Michigan and know that without them, I would not have been nearly as successful.

Where do you hope your ME degree takes you after graduation?

After graduating I am planning on pursuing a master’s degree in mechanical engineering. With one more year of eligibility, my utmost desire is to continue to don the block “M” and represent the University of Michigan for one more year. Enrolling in the Rackham graduate school will allow me to achieve both my academic and athletic goals; there is no doubt that this is the next step I want to take in my life. 

After finishing my master’s degree, I hope to find a job working as an engineer in either the acoustics sector or the bio-medical industry. I’ve enjoyed being involved with the NEEC acoustics program at Michigan and am considering continuing with acoustics as a career path. I’m also very interested in bio-medical devices and see this as another option.

Meet ME’s Paul Powers, BIG 10 Men’s Swimming

Paul Powers

How did you get involved in men’s swimming and share with me a few of your top accolades in the sport while here at U-M.

I started swimming in the fifth grade. My family tried homeschool for a year and swimming was our Physical Education credit. Fortunately, homeschool only lasted half a year, but swimming stuck. I continued to swim during the seasons when I wasn’t playing football or basketball. During my freshman year of high school, I wasn’t able to play football after multiple concussions, so took to swimming with a more serious approach. I was lucky enough to land an offer to swim at the University of Michigan before my senior year of high school. In my first two years as a member of the Michigan Men’s swim team, I’ve been honored to be a five time NCAA All-American and six-time BIG 10 champion. My sophomore year I was able to set a BIG 10 and Michigan team record in the 50 freestyle. I’ve also been able to represent team USA as a member of the 2015 World University Games where I placed third in the 50 freestyle and received two second place finishes on two additional relay teams. I represented team USA again as a member of the 2016 World Championship team where I was able to final in the 50 freestyle, help team USA place second in the 4x100 freestyle relay and 4x50 freestyle relay, and earn a bronze in the 4x50 medley relay. 

What spurred your interest in mechanical engineering and why did you choose to study at the University of Michigan?

As a child I was always interested in things that made noises. Most commonly these were the vacuum cleaner, microwave, or lawn mower that usually ended up in pieces in the garage. I followed this passion throughout high school by restoring three old cars and modifying my own cars. I had always known that mechanical engineering was what I wanted to study. It just so happened that the school I wanted to swim for also had one of the greatest engineering programs in the world. It was a no brainer for me that I had to come here.

What do you see as the benefits of being involved in college athletics?

Although a no brainer, with almost 30 hours of practice a week during heavy training, swimming made me realize real quick how organized I had to be, especially with the rigor and commitment that the engineering department also expects. In high school, I coasted through most of my classes and only studied before the tests. My first semester of college showed me how it’s not quite the same in college. 

Collegiate swimming also taught me many other values. It taught me that maintaining balance in life is very important. You can’t allow yourself to become one-dimensional or so bland that people don’t enjoy being around you. It taught me how making mistakes is fine; what’s important is how you learn from then. There have been many times where I was expected to win a race and didn’t, or rather didn’t even finish in scoring range. Learning from these mistakes allows you to become more well rounded and teaches you how to deal with the failure that you are bound to face throughout different points in life. Turning negatives into positives and using them as motivation is important. Lastly, it taught me how the additional two percent can be the difference in participating and winning. Many times it’s easy to do just enough to get by, but if you want to be the stand out, bring recognition to your team, and know that you gave it the best you could, two percent goes along way.

Where do you hope your ME degree takes you after graduation?

As much as I love engineering, I love interacting with people just as much. I could never see myself sitting at a desk running calculations day in and day out. This originally tore me between business and engineering. I proceeded with my major in engineering and a minor in philosophy. After my undergrad, I plan to get my MBA and go into business management or consulting. I’ve been lucky enough to connect with different companies that are top in the country as far as engineering, such as Boeing and Tesla. Along with internships, the connections I’ve been able to make with professional engineers throughout the world have been an invaluable resource for my introduction and desire to pursue in the real world of engineering.