There’s a spot on CU Denver’s campus that is special for electrical engineering student Audrey Whitesell. Behind the Science Building—where she spends hours working in labs, going to classes, and hanging out with friends—is a grassy lawn where she can sit back and take in the campus and downtown Denver. And what she sees is a community, a place where she belongs.
Whitesell transferred to CU Denver after community college, hoping to find a better fit. “I had friends that had transferred to CU Denver,” Whitesell said. “After talking to them about their experience, I decided to transfer in and I love it.” Her friends raved about the small class sizes, friendships they’d made, and how involved the professors were. When she got to campus, she saw that they were right.
As a Filipino woman in STEM, she was also excited to find other students in her physics classes that looked like her—it made her feel a part of something bigger. Before, at times, she’d felt excluded from study groups and classroom discussion. Not anymore. “There are more women taking the exact same classes as me,” Whitesell said. “I don’t feel like I’m the only woman.”
Through her mentors and advisors, she found that the downtown campus had a lot of resources for her academic goals, but also her wellbeing, like free counseling. “To me, that’s community,” Whitesell said. “Not only do I have access to these resources, but there are people who are happy to guide me toward them.”
At CU Denver, Whitesell found people invested in helping her make connections to reach her goals. She had the opportunity to work with one of her professors in a local high school classroom to help students explore the research field.
Another professor told her about a new quantum program in the physics department and encouraged her to get involved. “I’m finally in the quantum lab class and it’s just been excellent,” Whitesell said. “The professor is teaching me how to take all these slightly different technologies that aren’t necessarily quantum but prepare me perfectly for a career in quantum.”
During her time at CU Denver, Whitesell took advantage of the university’s extensive network to search for and land internships. She was even able to leverage one internship at the United States Patent and Trademark Office for class credit, which included discussing with a professor how the internship connected to her major. “I think that helped me gain more out of the internship,” she said.
For another internship at TM Technologies, she put her skills using AI and machine learning technologies—something she’d explored in a CU Denver class—to work. That connection between the classroom and real life has been invaluable. “Sure, you can read the manual, and you can follow the procedure, and you can build something,” Whitesell said. “But something will always go wrong, and you need to learn how to fix it. That’s part of the [CU Denver] degree: You can fix any problem thrown at you.”
And, just like her friends encouraged her to transfer to CU Denver, Whitesell convinced someone else to enroll: her mom, who had some college credits but had stepped away from school to raise her children. “My Dad and I have been urging her to go back,” Whitesell said. “When I transferred to CU Denver, and I was talking about the campus, how involved my professors were, class sizes, she decided to give it a shot. And now she’ll be graduating in summer 2024.”
As for next steps, the future is almost limitless for Whitesell. She’s very interested in quantum physics and teaching. No matter what path she chooses, she feels prepared. “My relationships, my professors, my advisor, my department have helped me prepare me so much for my career” she said.