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Chico State

Graduating Seniors Share Their Stories: Undeterred by Rejection, Engineering Major Finds Success

Wearing a green sweater and black pants, Kirsten Welch rests her arm on a rail while she poses for a photo outdoors.
(Jason Halley / University Photographer)

Your college years are a time of exceptional growth—academically, socially, and philosophically. Who you are on day one is often very different from the person who throws their cap in the air at commencement. As members of the class of 2024 wrap up their time as undergraduates, we’re asking them to share their story of transformation.   

What started with building trebuchets out of popsicle sticks in junior high school has catapulted Kirsten Welch into a budding career as a weapons designer.

The Chico native knew what she wanted to do by the time she was in high school. Realizing her strengths were in design, she enrolled in the mechanical engineering program and will graduate this May.

Her exposure to Chico State’s engineering department began as a senior at CORE Butte Charter School. Welch shadowed undergraduates and conducted research with Professor Ozgul Yasar-Inceoglu in the Material Testing Lab.

Once at Chico State, she sought out opportunities to get involved on campus, which she credits for her success and growth in the field. She participated in the SAE Baja team for two years and joined the Tau Beta Pi engineering honor society as a sophomore, where she currently serves as president.

The coursework builds a strong theoretical foundation, but the extracurricular activities are what will give students an edge in gaining practical skills, she said.

“I would recommend any student to join at least one club, especially one that has hands-on experience for engineering,” Welch said. “If you really want to get ahead and be at the top of your game, you should join a club.”

Welch will be interning at Lawrence Livermore National Lab for the third time this summer before starting graduate school at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, where she will focus on explosives research.


In Her Own Words:

I started applying for internships at Lawrence Livermore National Lab in high school. I was rejected two times and finally got accepted on my third application. So, it took a little while to get that acceptance letter, but it all has to do with timing. I would just tell students not to get discouraged by rejection.
Typically, [Lawrence Livermore] wants older students and I think that’s what it was because I was rejected my freshman and sophomore year. As soon as I got to the summer before my junior year, I got three inquiries from Livermore and two from other companies. Whereas before, I’d sent out hundreds of applications and never heard back from anybody.
Even then, I was not accepted as an engineering intern. I was accepted as a drafting intern. So, I started off drafting to get my foot in the door. [Lawrence Livermore] was incredible and worked with me, and even though I wasn’t in engineering, they let me do engineering as a drafter, which is not typical. Then this past summer, I got my first engineering internship with them, and I’m returning this summer after I graduate to do a second engineering internship.
I’ve always been driven. I never wanted to be afraid of rejection because that’s part of the process. So, I would just tell students to go for it. The worst thing they can say is no, but the best thing they can say is yes.