October 23, 2013

Courtney Irwin is not your average student.

Her weekly schedule includes conducting research for NASA, volunteering in the community, and mentoring her peers at LSU’s College of Engineering, just to name a few.   

Irwin is a mechanical engineering senior with a minor in leadership development, which she credits as a key factor in her success.

“Leadership, team-building, and communication skills are the skills employers need,” Irwin said. “You obviously need to have strong grades and professional experience, but the soft skills matter so much more than a lot of people realize.”

The leadership development minor is available to any undergraduate student at LSU. This minor enables students from any curriculum to develop the skills and competencies that foster leadership in any setting. “My focus on leadership development will not only help me get a job in the future, but it will also help me be successful in any job that I have, engineering or not,” Irwin said. “Those skills are crucial.”

In addition to leadership development, Irwin is pursuing the Distinguished Communicator Award through LSU’s Communication across the Curriculum, or CxC, where she also serves on the program’s Student Advisory Council. The focus of CxC is to enhance students’ learning experiences by improving their written, verbal, visual presentation, and technological communication skills within their disciplines.

“In the engineering field, we hear it all the time,” Irwin said. “Communication skills are on the top list of things that employers say are important when they’re looking for students to hire as employees.”

As the current president of the LSU Student Chapter of Engineers Without Borders-USA, Irwin has applied both her leadership and communications training to develop successful community partnerships. She and the LSU student chapter work with under-developed communities both local and abroad to provide access to basic human necessities like clean water, reliable electricity, sanitation, and education.

“It’s important for students to get involved,” Irwin said. “It really helps you appreciate just how much you have by giving back to people who don’t have quite as much.”

One of the organization’s upcoming projects will focus on targeting and eliminating hunger in the Baton Rouge community. By building a community garden at a local middle school, EWB hopes to introduce younger students to the design process while encouraging civic engagement and community service.

“Hunger is a major issue in Baton Rouge,” Irwin said. “If we could try to make some sort of impact, that would be huge.”

In addition to her extraordinary commitment to the community, Irwin has also amassed an impressive record of academic achievement.

Last summer, Irwin completed a mechanical engineering internship with Shell Oil Company, and she is now looking forward to working in the company’s New Orleans operation as a subsea drilling intern next summer.

Aside from being president of EWB-LSU, Irwin also serves as secretary of the LSU Chapter of AIAA, the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics. One of her latest endeavors with the organization is HEIST, a joint research project with NASA to design and construct a payload that samples microbial aerosols in the atmosphere. The NASA-funded project is part of the Undergraduate Student Instrument Project (USIP), which aims to promote educational and research opportunities for undergraduate students.

While balancing several projects at once can seem overwhelming, Irwin said she embraces her hectic schedule and finds it rewarding. “How often do you get a $50,000 grant from NASA?,” Irwin laughed. “We are extremely excited about this opportunity.”

Courtney Irwin exemplifies the College of Engineering’s mission of “creating engineers who solve society's problems, transform ideas into reality, and generate prosperity that improves the quality of life.” During her tenure at LSU, Irwin has been proactive in acquiring the skill set she will need to excel in her professional endeavors, and she has shown just the type of leadership companies expect from an “LSU Engineer”.

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Article by Lauren Zimmermann, communications intern. For more information, contact Mimi LaValle, College of Engineering, mlavall@lsu.edu or (225) 578-5706.



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