Skip to content

To SUGS: Grace Haller

Grace Haller attending the Aerospace MLK Event, Soaring with Equity.

Grace Haller is a first-year master’s student in ME. Below, she blogs about her transition from undergrad to grad school through the University’s Sequential Undergraduate/Graduate Studies (SUGS) program.

Grace Haller celebrating graduation with her B.S.E in Mechanical Engineering. By Julia Schachinger.

Sitting on the third floor of the Duderstadt in October 2023, I was nervously checking my email. I knew SUGS decisions were coming out soon, and every time I checked my email, it was with some apprehension. My watch buzzed, an email had some through – Congratulations on your admission to U-M Mechanical Engineering! I didn’t even open the email before calling my mom. However, I had forgotten about time zones and my very sleepy mother picked up. “You got into SUGS, didn’t you?” Somehow, moms always know.

I hail from the great state of Washington, which is why my mother was so sleepy answering the phone at 9am EST. While I am incredibly proud of my PNW origins, I chose the University of Michigan for undergrad due to its excellent engineering program and my desire to experience new parts of the country. When it came time to choose a major, I chose mechanical engineering due to its flexibility in a variety of industries and career paths. However, as I have known since I was 8, I want to work in the aerospace industry.

I have used the many opportunities available at Michigan to pursue my dreams – I landed a Co-op at Gulfstream Aerospace during the career fair and worked in several departments there. Most notably, I was the ME 250 – Introduction to Manufacturing and Design instructional assistant (IA) for 3 semesters during undergrad. My experience as the ME 250 IA strongly contributed to my desires to pursue graduate studies. Watching my fellow grad school co-workers go through SUGS while teaching ME 250 definitely inspired me to follow a similar path. 

My next challenge was deciding what program I wanted to do. I had been accepted into both the Integrative Systems + Design SUGS (ISD) and the Mechanical Engineering SUGS and needed to decide between the two programs. SUGS is the plus one master’s program offered by many departments at Michigan. Typically, you apply during senior year, and if you have the required GPA you have a high chance to be accepted. Depending on your major, you are eligible to apply for other SUGS programs – in Mechanical Engineering I could also apply to the ISD program (and several others). ISD was a Master’s of Engineering program, more focused on the systems side of engineering, whereas the Mechanical Engineering program was a Master’s of Science in Engineering and more focused on the theoretical and technical aspects of engineering. After lots of research and discussions with peers, advisors, and mentors, I decided that the Mechanical Engineering program was the best fit for my career goals. 

There was one piece of the puzzle left to 100% solidify my SUGS decision, and that was a GSI position. As an out-of-state student, I would not have been able to afford SUGS without a GSI appointment. An email was sent out stating that there were fewer GSI positions available for master’s students, so I was nervous. I started looking for full-time jobs just in case SUGS didn’t pull through. The last week of November I received another email – Winter 2024 GSI Offer: Action Required. Being unsure of what I was going to do for the next year ended… I was going to get my master’s in mechanical engineering from the University of Michigan.

Michigan vs. Washington College Football National Championship Shirt!

Sitting in a crowded living room with twenty of my friends, I nervously watched as J.J. McCarthy, Blake Corum and Jim Harbough lead the GREATEST UNIVERSITY IN THE WORLD to a NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP in college football. Afterwards I immediately sprinted to South U to celebrate with twenty-thousand of my closest friends. Back home, my Washington family and friends were devastated – due to several bets they now had to sport Michigan gear for the rest of the week. Winning the National Championship was an amazing start to the year. Ann Arbor was buzzing with excitement, and I was ready to start grad school! 

Walking through the halls of G.G. Brown on the first day of grad school honestly felt exactly the same. I was starting SUGS during a Winter semester due to a co-op during undergrad, so I had only had three weeks between programs instead of a full summer. I was in the same building, with many of the same people in my classes, and working the exact same jobs as I had during undergrad.

While most aspects of my life felt the same, the “course shopping” was a new experience. In undergrad, aside from a few technical electives, our courses were laid out for us. In grad school, we simply had to meet the requirements for our degree, thus the course shopping at the beginning of the semester. I was on the waitlist for multiple classes and had to search for a math class to fit into my schedule. This made those first few weeks significantly more hectic than undergrad. I had to figure out which classes I really wanted to take, and being decisive is not my greatest strength.

While I had four fascinating MechE classes lined up, I unfortunately had to decide on one to drop. I went to each class and carefully evaluated the course content and what I wanted to learn that semester, eventually settling on ME 543: Analytical and Computational Dynamics instead of ME 560: Modeling and Analysis of Dynamical Systems,  due to my desire to learn more about computational dynamics. For the first few weeks, I was quite stressed trying to figure out which classes I would get into and which classes to ultimately choose. However, with all my friends deliberating the same questions, it became a bonding experience. I remember registering for a math class 10 minutes before it started and calling my friend to tell him I had registered and that he should too. I ended up taking a different class, while he ultimately stayed in the class I told him to register for.

Grace Haller attending the Paint-and-Pour graduate student social event.

The biggest difference I have noticed between grad school and undergrad is the passion for specialized courses. On the first day of class, every single professor strongly emphasized the importance of learning the class content and directly connected the content to their research. While this message was also prevalent during undergrad, students have a different attitude due to the specialized nature of the courses versus the broad-scope fundamental courses during undergrad. My classmates tend to be more engaged and enthusiastic about the course content, as we all specifically chose courses we were interested in. Overall, while the content is harder, classes somehow seem easier and more enjoyable (we haven’t reached midterm season yet so maybe check in again after that…). I am not sure if my time management has improved, but I feel like I have less school work than I typically had in undergrad. Overall, I am extremely excited about each of my classes and learning about each professor’s specialization.

In terms of my career, my desire to go into the aerospace industry remains strong and is a driving force for the cognates I am taking. Throughout college, I always planned on doing SUGS, so I had it built into my mental five-year plan. While I had to work extremely hard in undergrad to ensure I could pursue this opportunity, it was absolutely worth every late night and every single Mujo’s coffee.

Grace Haller has been accepted to ME’s SUGS program. She celebrated outside the GG Brown Laboratory with a photo. By Julia Schachinger.

Currently, my biggest obstacle is deciding what to do over the summer. Due to the master’s program schedule, I unfortunately had to drop my co-op with Gulfstream Aerospace, leaving me with an empty summer after the fall recruiting season. While I am currently looking for internships, I am debating finding a way to go abroad – something I never experienced in undergrad due to Covid. In the back of my mind, I am concerned that a summer of no experience will hurt me when it comes to the full-time job search, but also, when else am I going to have four months with minimal responsibilities? My plan is to know 100% what I am going to do by spring break – so I can make plans accordingly. However, you never know with life. Sometimes it surprises you.

My plan for the rest of the semester is to have fun and learn as much as I can. Most of my friends in SUGS are headed out after this semester, so I have to get in as many BINGO nights as I can with them. I want to embrace each day and each opportunity, and continue to be involved with the Department of Mechanical Engineering and the College of Engineering! SUGS was a great choice for me, and I am so excited to see where it takes me.

Story tags

community student blog